10 Fabulous Pieces for High Level Youth Orchestras
November 30, 2017     Dr. Carolyn Watson

10 Fabulous Pieces for High-Level Youth Orchestras – Part 2


Renowned conductor Dr. Carolyn Watson gets back to us with some more of her favorite pieces for high-level youth orchestras. These tried and tested compositions offer a variety of musical and pedagogical experiences for your young players, with plenty to challenge and develop all sections of your orchestra!

As mentioned in the first installment of this article, these suggested works don’t necessarily need to be performed in their entirety. Choosing a movement or two will potentially provide students with a sample of the whole composition, an experience of the selected composer, and exposure to the same pedagogical concepts.

6. Borodin Polovtsian Dances 12′

Generally, I am in favor of programming works featuring a number of shorter movements. Contrasting styles and tempi develop your orchestra’s ability to watch and respond to you, the conductor – an aspect of training young musicians, the value of which can never be understated! This work by Borodin also has an optional choir part – a great choice if you are looking for a combined orchestral/choral item. 

7. Fauré Pelléas and Mélisande Suite 18’

A particularly wonderful piece via which to develop your ensemble’s string sound, this work also offers a great platform for selected wind and horn solos, and keeps your harp player well occupied! Each of the four movements allows you to explore a variety of string and orchestral colors and contrasts.

8. Kodály Háry János Suite 25’

Choosing this work is one sure way to guarantee that you remain popular with the brass and percussion sections all year! If you are also looking for a work in which to feature an orchestral saxophone and a pianist, this is a great choice. Prominent viola and clarinet solos, as well as much tutti and sectional writing, will see that everyone is kept engaged and challenged in this six-movement humorous work – quite possibly the only piece in the repertoire to begin with an orchestral ‘sneeze’!

9. Mozart Overture and Ballet Music from Idomeneo 5’/23’

It goes without saying Mozart is one of the composers with whom young musicians should be familiar. The challenge, however, lies in finding suitable orchestral repertoire for students, as Mozart is notoriously tricky due to the transparency of the orchestration as well as refined classical phrasing and sound required. The Overture and Ballet Music from Mozart’s early opera Idomeneo is a great choice for a high-level young orchestra. The overture, in the key of D major, ensures relative readability for your strings, and the ballet music is also made more accessible by an energetic ritornello in this key.

10. J. Strauss Overture to the Gypsy Baron 9′

A great selection particularly if you have a strong Principal Oboe. Operatic overtures are especially good training pieces because they generally feature vastly varied themes from throughout the opera within one piece – meaning students develop the ability to respond to differing meters, tempi, styles, and articulation. Furthermore, the vocal lines often provide wonderful solo opportunities particularly for the woodwinds as in this example.

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