When the New York Youth Symphony recorded its debut album during the pandemic’s dark early days, violinist Jessica Jeon was just 12 years old.
Now she and her fellow musicians are competing against some of the world’s elite orchestras, including the famed Los Angeles and Berlin Philharmonics, to take home the Grammy award for best orchestral performance -- the first time a youth orchestra has ever made it into the category.
“What a cool experience to have -- this is my first time ever, like, recording in a studio,” Jeon, now 14, told AFP after a rehearsal.
Confronted with the pandemic-forced cancellations of the symphony’s customary performances at Carnegie Hall, music director Michael Repper decided to organize a recording experience for his students instead -- something to mark their accomplishments despite the halt in live performance.
It was no easy feat: pandemic restrictions meant recording could only happen in smaller groups, meaning the young artists had to wear headphones and use a click track for cues, and the different parts were later synchronized.
“I’m very proud that we were able to engineer a way of making it happen despite the pandemic. It was a fantastic experience,” the conductor said.
Noelia Carrasco, a 19-year-old cellist called finding out that she was a Grammy nominee “so surreal.”
The untitled album was produced by Grammy winner Judith Sherman, who this year is nominated as well, as classical producer of the year.
In the wake of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd and the mass uprising that followed, the symphony decided the album would include pieces by Black composers -- it features Florence Price, Valerie Coleman and Jessie Montgomery.
Unfortunately the youth orchestra members won’t be able to attend Sunday’s ceremony in Los Angeles -- tickets are reserved for conductors -- but they are planning a watch party to bask in their moment together.
Repper, who will be there, noted it’s his first Grammy nomination as a conductor.