In a first for Tanglewood, the prelude concert of August 25 featured young Berkshire musicians from Kids 4 Harmony. Inspired by the El Sistema program in Venezuela that brings high quality classical music instruction to children across the economic spectrum, Kids 4 Harmony, led by artistic director Sean Elliger, is based in 18 Degrees, a Western Massachusetts family service agency. Headed by CEO Stephanie Steed, 18 Degrees recognizes that providing opportunities and supports allow individuals’ talents and resources to emerge, freed from some of the many obstacles that can hold people down. Eleven years ago, Kids 4 Harmony was founded as one of those opportunities and is the only family service agency in the country to house an El Sistema inspired music program.
For these children from Pittsfield and North Adams, this program has given them wings. Maestro Jorge Soto, himself trained in the El Sistema program in Venezuela, conducted three different string ensembles in a program that included works by Piazzolla, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Antonio Vivaldi, among others. The performance also included a delightful and sophisticated piece, “El Último baile” (“The Last Dance”) written by Davis Albeyeros, a 16-year-old violinist in the Elayne P. Bernstein Ensemble. Composed in tribute to his friend and colleague, first violinist Geivens Dextra, the piece sparkled with Latin rhythms and harmonies. For the final offering, renowned pianist Emmanuel Ax joined the Elayne Bernstein ensemble for a vibrant performance of the Rondo from Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K. 478.
The quality of musicianship was superb. The ensemble voices were lush, full of musical nuance and emotional understanding. One could sense the audience sitting up higher in their seats and taking notice as they realized that these were not just children playing music, but ensembles of fine young musicians performing music wonderfully.
After 11 years, the oldest among the Kids 4 Harmony students are flying off into distinguished college programs. Geivens is about to leave for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he will join Kids 4 Harmony alumna, Leila Paredes, now entering her sophomore year as a major in violin performance. Others are at MCLA, Clark, Ithaca College, and Princeton, their futures shining brightly before them.