Aspiring Kim Kardashians and Bling Ring members of the world, I've got news for you: out there, in towns near you, live teenagers as determined as you. Unlike you, however, they're determined in their pursuit of excellence. In fact, their determination will pay off with splendid careers that will last beyond their twenties. They're classical musicians.
This summer, the Proms is showcasing some of the most talented ones in several concerts. On Sunday night, a newly formed orchestra with players clad in black jackets, red trousers and polka-dot shoes made an outstanding London debut, performing not an easy Haydn Symphony but Dmitri Shostakovich's monumental Tenth Symphony. The orchestra? The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, a brand-new creation currently on its inaugural overseas tour.
Astonishingly, until now the United States didn't have a national youth orchestra, and this new ensemble highlighted the remarkable musical talent around the country. You'd be forgiven for not knowing that there's an excellent teenage violinist in Bettendorf, Iowa, a top viola player in St. George, Utah, or an outstanding timpanist in Kissimmee, Florida, yet here they all were, performing the Shostakovich as well as Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and a new piece by young American composer Sean Shepherd at a high professional standard, expertly guided by conductor Valery Gergiev.
Congratulations to the artistic planners that scheduled Joshua Bell as the soloist for the Tchaikovsky. Bell, the poster child for home-grown American talent, performed the concerto with such feeling and brilliance that one for a moment forgot that it's one of the most frequently played pieces in the violin repertoire. Gergiev led the teenagers to a mature and technically outstanding performance with only a couple of clammed notes from the brass. Yes, the 120 players really are teenagers: to play in the orchestra, a player has to be between 16 and 19 years old and not be a full-time conservatory student. That's right: some members of this exceptional group are pursuing full-time education in a different field.
But Proms audience, next time please show the Yanks that you know something about culture and don't applaud between movements.
A couple of nights earlier, another North American teenager electrified the Royal Albert Hall audience with his technical mastery and sublime performance. Jan Lisiecki, born in Calgary to Polish parents, opted for a lyrical approach in Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto, resulting in often-softer dynamics than regular listeners are used to. In fact, this intimate playing, delicately accompanied by the Academy of Santa Cecilia under Sir Antonio Pappano, was at times an almost religious experience, with the audience in rapt attention. (No coughing!)
You'll hear - and hear of -- Jan Lisiecki (and in all likelihood of Kevin Li from Bettendorf, Jacob Davis from St. George, and Jonathan Collazo as well) again. Credit to the dedicated music teachers not just in North America who despite the cultural onslaught of Kim Kardashian & Co. manage to educate a new generation to the highest standards of excellence.