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American Youth Symphony’s triumphant kick off concert for The Elfman Project

I can’t imagine how many people skip out on American Youth Symphony concerts because of the name, thinking, “I don’t want to hear a bunch of kids.” Let’s get something straight: when the musicians in this orchestra come together to play, they sound better than most of our country’s professional orchestras. The upper limit on age is 27; the large majority of musicians are studying their instruments full time at the undergraduate or graduate level, they’re paid, and they rehearse twice as much (if not more) than a professional ensemble ever does. Plus all of the concerts are free, and the programs are getting more and more innovative every season.

Last night’s concert kicked off the beginning of a three-year project to explore the music of film composer Danny Elfman. Conducted by notable film composer David Newman, the orchestra presented selections from Edward Scissorhands, Sommersby, and Batman. Edward Scissorhands was performed with a professional women’s chorus and synced to film, while Newman arranged concert suites of the most memorable and affecting music from Sommersby and Batman.

It wasn’t just film music, though. The evening opened with AYS Music Director Alexander Treger at the podium for Bartok’s Divirtimento for Strings and Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra. The fact that Treger is a violinist showed throughout the Bartok, which was conducted with a beautiful sense of color, and had no shortage of virtuosic fireworks to applaud. Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 was, well, Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2, and sounded great.

The highlight of the eveningĀ  was the score from Batman. I’ve seen AYS quite a few times, but I’ve never with so much brass onstage. Combined with Royce Hall’s perfectly balanced organ, the band blasted their way through Newman’s four selections, and the audience practically leaped to their feet at the final downbeat. Elfman himself took the stage for bows, and was clearly impressed and humbled by the young musicians’ performance of his work.

That was, unfortunately, the final concert of AYS’s 2011-12 season. But with two more years of Elfman concerts (did I mention these are all free?), and the quality of the performances almost always astounding, we have a lot to look forward to come next season.