School Spotlight: Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies

The Great Gate of Kiev
The Market at Limoges
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
Mark Russell Smith with the string section
Mark Russell Smith with the string section
Courtesy of Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies

Today's audio features the Symphony orchestra of Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies conducted by Mark Russell Smith, from their Spring 2013 concert at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts.

  • 7:15 a.m. Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Promenade; Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks

  • 7:15 p.m. Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga); The Great Gate of Kiev

For more than 40 years, the Twin Cities have been blessed to have not one, but two excellent youth orchestra organizations. The last School Spotlight featured the Minnesota Youth Symphonies (MYS), and this week the spotlight is on Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies (GTCYS).

Founded like MYS in 1972, GTCYS (pronounced "GIT-seez") serves more than 700 students ages 8 to 18 from around the Twin Cities metro and beyond with its seven school-year orchestras and three summer programs. Believing that a comprehensive approach to music education will help students achieve their full potential in all that they do in life, GTCYS programs are focused on teamwork, community engagement and discipline as well as on music learning. To increase access to music education, GTCYS is dedicated to breaking down barriers for students who otherwise could not afford to participate in orchestras by awarding $25,000 in need-based scholarships every year.

GTCYS students benefit from access to world-class musicians though coaching by members of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and Minnesota Orchestra as well as through working with guest conductors like Osmo Vänskä and Roberto Abbado. GTCYS has also been able to collaborate with non-orchestral organizations like the Minnesota Chorale and most recently with the James Sewell Ballet on a performance of Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. In 2011, GTCYS formed a strategic alliance with the SPCO to work together on their shared goals of building classical music audiences and serving the community. (They even share office space in downtown Saint Paul). This season, the Symphony orchestra will be working in particular with mentors from the University of Minnesota, and will have master classes with the Parker Quartet. In their turn, Symphony students have mentored students in the Philharmonia orchestras (the strings-only ensembles, often with the youngest students) as GTCYS recognizes the positive impact that high school mentors can have on beginning players.

Presenting 20 concerts to more than 10,000 people annually at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts as well as free performances at homeless shelters, care centers and schools, GTCYS is committed to bringing great music to as diverse an audience as possible. In the 2013-14 season, the Symphony orchestra and the SPCO will present a free family concert at the Ordway, capitalizing on the partnership between GTCYS and the SPCO.

The Symphony orchestra, under newly-appointed Artistic Director Mark Russell Smith (also the Director of Orchestral Activities at the University of Minnesota), comprises 100 students and rehearses Monday nights for two-and-a-half hours at Good Samaritan Church in Edina, Minn. As the top ensemble in GTCYS, the Symphony orchestra has recently performed such rigorous works as Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony in B minor, and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, selections of the latter you can hear by clicking the links to the right. This year, the Symphony orchestra will be performing a new commission by Minnesota composer David Evan Thomas as the first part of a three-year commissioning project made possible by the Minnesota Commissioning Club. Throughout its history, GTCYS has toured domestically and internationally, and Symphony is excited to be continuing that tradition this season. The Symphony will make a tour of Spain in June 2014, and as a testament to its talent and hard work, it has also been invited to perform at the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance.

But before those opportunities unfold, Symphony will perform Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 by Dmitri Shostakovich. GTCYS will kick off its 2013-14 season with a Fall Festival Concert (featuring all the orchestras) on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ordway. Tickets are available by calling The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra box office at 651-291-1144 or online at You can see the full line-up of 2013-14 GTCYS concerts by clicking here.

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