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October 18, 2018

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The arts:

Two young Las Vegas musicians set to play Carnegie Hall

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Courtesy Photo / Matthew Williams

Tristin Saito, left, and Alex Gonzalez, right, pose for a photo.

Since 1892, New York City’s Carnegie Hall has been a beacon for musicians. Just performing there is a sign of having made it as an artist. On Tuesday, two Las Vegas classical musicians will play the famed concert venue as the culmination of an elite fellowship program involving Miami’s New World Symphony and Carnegie’s NYO2, its National Youth Orchestra geared toward talented musicians ages 14 to 17.

“It’s really an honor,” 16-year-old violist Tristin Saito says of being chosen for NYO2. He spoke via phone after arriving in Miami, where he spent a week rehearsing and performing with the New World Symphony. “I get to perform with the best young musicians in the country. ... It’s truly a privilege to be in this program.”

The Coronado High School student is enjoying the opportunity to travel and meet other music lovers. When at home, he studies at the Nevada School of the Arts and performs with the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra. Through the NY02 program, Saito has befriended peer musicians from around the country, many of whom come from more competitive orchestra programs. Saito says the new connections motivate him to become even better.

According to Sarah Johnson, chief education officer and director of Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute, these relationships are one of the main goals of youth orchestra programs.

“Of course, access to really great teaching can be incredibly helpful,” Johnson says. "But a career in the arts requires something more than just impressive technical skill. As they plan future pursuits and a life in music, they get to be around other young people who are as passionate as they are. That sense of community really can bolster them as they continue to grow.”

In addition to friendships, mentorship and teaching also play a vital role in the continuation of classical music as both a culture and art form. That’s where 27-year-old violinist and New World Symphony fellow Alex Gonzalez comes in. The (comparatively) elder string musician also came up through the Las Vegas orchestra system, going to Las Vegas Academy, studying at Nevada School of the Arts and playing with Las Vegas Youth Orchestra.

Click to enlarge photo

Tristin Saito is seen rehearsing in the National Youth Orchestra.

Now Gonzalez coaches musicians who are like himself, but slightly younger. An NYO2 teacher, he coaches students like Saito, even though their differing instruments keep them from studying together directly. “I’m really, really happy to have another Las Vegas string player out here,” Gonzalez says. “There’s not a ton [of us], so it’s nice to see that Las Vegas is still producing players.”

Cassidy Fitzpatrick, New World Symphony's vice president for musician advancement, says Gonzalez represents the future ideal of classical music. “Aside from being an exceptional violinist and concertmaster, he has a warm personality and is so friendly I can only imagine that when working with students of NYO2, he’s there for them. And I bet they laugh together a lot — he has a very infectious laugh.”

Fitzpatrick believes that in order for classical music to remain relevant, it must be made accessible to all, not just the wealthy and privileged. Educational programs that offer access and mentorship to those who might traditionally be excluded are part of the long-game to grow audiences and keep the music playing.

“We really believe that the mentorship bonds that are created through programs like NYO2 are critical to the future of classical music,” Fitzpatrick says. “We believe orchestras must be reflective of their communities.”

The long game is already paying off. Both Saito and Gonzalez aim to build careers in music, both as performers and instructors.

While other 16-year-olds are still consumed with high school life, Saito dreams of being a principal performer in a professional orchestra. “I hope to be principal because they get paid the most,” he says, laughing. “Just being in a professional orchestra would be a great opportunity. I’d also like to teach younger students who also want to pursue a musical career, help them grow as a musician as well as a person.”

Further along in his path, Gonzalez is actively auditioning for orchestras around the country. In addition to dreams of playing the violin full-time, he’s also interested in teaching chamber music. And while a career in classical music is unlikely to land him in Southern Nevada, Gonzalez hopes to eventually do for Las Vegas what New World Symphony has done for him and what NYO2 is doing for Saito. “Las Vegas isn’t necessarily known for classical music, so I’m really interested in developing some sort of program, kind of like what Tristan is participating in here,” Gonzalez says. “Even if I don’t come back to Las Vegas as an orchestra musician, I’d like to bring something back to Las Vegas so the students have these experiences as well.”