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KW Youth Orchestra celebrates final concert of 2024, plans for 2025

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A group of young musicians in Waterloo Region is celebrating a major milestone that almost never happened.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra played their final concert of 2024 Friday night at First United Church on William Street in Waterloo.

The group was formed after the KW Symphony declared bankruptcy and cancelled all upcoming performances, including their youth orchestra programming.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra aimed to give those lost musicians a place to continue practicing their art, under the careful guidance of a team of professional musicians who chose to volunteer their time.

The final concert will feature pieces from composers Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak and Felix Mendelssohn.

“They are some challenging pieces, but we’re very lucky to have incredibly talented youth in our community that are anxious to play, want to play, and have brought their spirit to this season and we’ve been rebuilding the orchestra,” conductor Matthew Jones said.

Jones added that musicians from 130 families will be performing in the concert.

“It’s a gift to be able to work with young musicians and possibly a dream come true. I had my start in youth orchestras. I got my inspiration from youth orchestras, and so to bring that forward in my career and to offer it now to another generation is incredibly special. For myself and for the other conductors on the ream, it was a case of ‘not on our watch’ were we going to let the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra go quiet.”

The final 2024 concert for the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra on April 12, 2024. (Shelby Knox/CTV Kitchener)

“We’ve persevered so much”

For the young musicians taking part in the concert, the significance didn’t go unnoticed.

“I think we’re just extremely lucky to play today based on what happened. I’m just really excited to play for the people and show what we’ve been practicing,” 12 year-old violinist Victoria Lee told CTV News ahead of the concert.

Victoria, her 10-year-old brother Ryan Lee, and their six-year-old sister Gloria Lee all play together on the youth orchestra.

The trio said the group has helped them form friendships as well as given them a space to practice their music.

The final 2024 concert for the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra on April 12, 2024. (Shelby Knox/CTV Kitchener)

For fellow musician James Zhang, 9, getting the chance to play concerto pieces as part of a group is thrilling. He said it helps build his love for music and even see a future in the art.

“I feel like there’s people [with the youth orchestra] who can help me in my violin career.”

Cellist Olivier Joyce said the opportunity has been a wonderful.

“To get to play again, especially after the whole debacle earlier this year – to even have a finale concert has been a really great moment. And to have a concert at all and be able to perform has been really amazing this year,” Joyce said. “A lot of us thought it wasn’t even going to happen this year and it might never happen again. But it only took only week to get the Senior Youth Orchestra back. That really made me happy.”

For some of the older members of the youth orchestra, the moment was just as poignant.

“Just being here at all in general after everything that has happened is insane,” 15-year-old flautist Claire Taylor said. “It’s incredible. And it’s even more incredible because we’ve persevered so much and it’s so cool to be a part of the new step towards whatever this will become.”

“I think the music community, everybody here, has really banded together – pardon the pun – and worked on going for it and just having something that really represents you, where you can spill out all your emotions.”

“Music is another way that I can express myself, especially with people around my age,” 21 year-old trumpeter Keri Bailey said.

“Without these kinds of opportunities it’ll die, right? If we don’t support local community musicians then who’s going to make our music?” Bailey asked.

The final 2024 concert for the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra on April 12, 2024. (Shelby Knox/CTV Kitchener)

Planning for next year

Friday’s concert will not be the youth orchestra’s swan song. Planning is already underway for next year.

“We’ve been very busy behind the scenes,” Jones explained. “We are now incorporated. We are our own organization. We have an executive committee that are raring to go – really smart and committed people that are going to work on building our organization and making sure that is strong going into the future.”

He said the organizations would be honoured to have anybody interested join them on the journey.

“When we look at our music community, the youth orchestra wants to be part of the healing as we try to rebuild our wonderful arts community, our wonderful music community, and hopefully maybe even see the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony return to make wonderful music again. If the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra can be part of that journey, part of that healing, we’re absolutely here and ready to serve”

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