OLEAN — To Stefan Sanders, an orchestra operates very much like a community. All the different instruments — from string to woodwind to percussion — must play together in harmony to perform a piece of music.
“The orchestra is made up of different types of instruments that all have to work together, just like a society,” said Sanders, the resident conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. “Different types of people with different interests that all have to work together in order for it to function healthily.”
That was the message the BPO tried to bring to Olean City School District students Tuesday in the Olean High School auditorium as part of its annual Music for Youth Concert Series. Students in kindergarten through second grade were treated to the orchestra’s classical music and accompanying narration in the morning before students in third through sixth grade had their own concert in the afternoon.
The Music for Youth Concert Series, which the orchestra has run in some form since 1935, played for about 50,000 students last year, including all Buffalo Public Schools elementary students. OHS is one of just four Western New York schools the group annually travels to, as the majority of schools travel to Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo to view the concerts, or view the BPO’s annual on-demand concert.
Sanders started Tuesday’s concert with “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, which he hoped would be familiar to many of the students after it appeared in the animated film “Trolls” last year.
“We wanted to play something that would capture their attention and that they would be familiar with right off the bat,” he said.
For this year’s program, the BPO commissioned new poetry from Buffalo-based poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater to accompany Benjamin Britten’s time-honored musical composition, “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” A narrative that briefly describes the different instruments of the orchestra is often spoken to the audience during the piece, but the BPO decided to create a narrative of its own.
“It’s a little more poetic and artistic rather than just describing the instrument in a prose style,” Sanders said.
The orchestra also played “God Bless America” and had the students sing along. Much of the concert was interactive, with students being encouraged to clap, wave their hands and tap their feet to the sounds of the concert.
Performing for a child audience is different than performing for an adult audience in a “wonderful and innocent way,” Sanders said.
The conductor called the Music for Youth Concert Series some of the more important concerts the BPO does, as he said the students they perform for are not only the country’s future, but the future BPO audience.
“We take this very seriously and it’s important for us to engage young people on this level, to introduce them to the orchestra, its repertoire, music and how fulfilling music education can be to one’s development into adulthood,” he said.