Beyonce and all the prime-time stars were the centers of attention on Sunday night’s Grammy Awards TV broadcast. But the darlings among the off-air Grammy winners were the New York Youth Symphony (NYYS) and its conductor and mentor, Michael Repper, who will be returning to one of his other jobs – music director of the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra in March.
It was a colossal achievement for the musicians – ages 12 to 22 – against the odds favoring superstar ensembles in the Best Orchestral Performance category and the pandemic. As Repper noted in his post-awards thank-you remarks, his young orchestra managed to record the winning album at a time when vaccines were available only, if at all, to those of grandparental age.
“I’m so honored to have represented the amazing New York Youth Symphony at the Grammy Awards and that together we took home our first Grammy,” Repper said. More than that, it was the first Grammy nomination (much less award) for any youth orchestra in Grammy history. “This project is a testament to the amazing impact that young people can have when they feel empowered to give it their all and when they have the resources and opportunity to achieve their dream. My entire mission as a conductor,” Repper said, “is to connect people through music. I’m so proud that this project brought people together during the challenging time of the pandemic, and thrilled to have been able to share this tremendous music by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, and Valerie Coleman.”
The program was selected, in part, to honor largely overlooked African-American composers in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests ensuing from the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. (The New York Youth Symphony album is available on Apple Music.)
Aside from having to rehearse and record in separate socially distanced groups, some youngsters had to do so remotely. “I’m just so proud of them,” Repper said of his NYYS musicians, “not just for playing so far above their age, but also as ambassadors for young musicians everywhere. To these kids, I say thank you for believing in this crazy idea I had and running with it. And then to win the Grammy – it’s just nuts.”
Among the competition they bested in the Orchestral Performance category were John Williams conducting the Berlin Philharmoniker and Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Meanwhile, Grammy-winner Repper, also the music director of the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, takes the podium in concerts on March 9 in Easton, March 10 in Ocean Pines, and March 11 in Rehoboth Beach. Besides the full orchestra, he will conduct 13th-year-old violin soloist Elizabeth Song in a program of Brahms and Florence Price. Repper was one of the three MSO judges who awarded the first-place prize to Song.
Tickets, concert times, and locations are available at midatlanticsymphony.org.