At a time when the future of music education looks bleak, and opportunities for talented secondary school students are dwindling and inconsistent across the country, her ‘totally teenage’ mission has seen an ambitious expansion of NYO as a social action organization, while maintaining the very highest standards of musicianship.
Continuing a tradition of strong female leadership which began with founder Dame Ruth Railton in 1948, Sarah Alexander’s vision cascades down through the organisation, inspiring teenage girls to excel in leadership and peer-to-peer roles in NYO, which now retains a gender balance of 50/50. Thanks to the momentum generated by the NYO Inspire programme – a game-changing, free inclusion and access programme – NYO sustains numbers of non-white musicians at 27%, putting it significantly ahead of the 14.6% in the general teenage population. This drive forward to harness the richness and brilliance of teenagers from across the country from all backgrounds, and to make NYO open with no barriers, has attracted ongoing support from philanthropists, vital for an organization which relies on the support and commitment of its donors for over 70% of its funding.
Sarah Alexander, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of NYO, said: “Over the last ten years our orchestra and our supporters have made something completely new and very wonderful happen in classical music. NYO teenage musicians are not only showing their brilliance on the concert platform, they are taking that brilliance into workshops, into schools, and into youth centres. They are sharing their knowledge and love of orchestral music with other teenagers, bringing musical inspiration directly into the lives of many thousands of young people, many of whom are hearing a live orchestra for the first time. NYO is unique, the most vivid demonstration of the importance of music in young people’s lives. I accept this award with deep gratitude to everyone who has supported the work of NYO over the last 10 years, especially our orchestral musicians, who give so much time and energy to help other teenage musicians.”
Dame Liz Forgan, Chair of NYO, said: “Sarah inherited a national treasure but under her leadership the NYO, an orchestra of the most exceptional young musicians, has grown into a beacon of shared joy in classical music for teenagers all over the country. They will all feel pride in this award.”
NYO’s forthcoming concerts, performing a complete opera for the first time in its 70 year history under the direction of Sir Mark Elder, are at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall (5 January), Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall (6 January) and London’s Barbican (7 January).
Sarah Alexander OBE studied at the University of Durham, has worked as an opera and theatre director, and previously led Welsh National Opera’s award-winning MAX programme. Under her leadership NYO was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2012, and in 2016 Sarah Alexander was recognized by the Association of British Orchestras as Orchestra Manager of the Year.
The NYO over the past decade
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain was created in 1948 with the aim of giving the most committed and capable teenage musicians in the UK the chance to make orchestral music together to the highest possible standard. Re-formed annually through a scrupulous process of competitive auditions, NYO came together three times a year for residential rehearsals, tackling the most challenging repertoire alongside leading international artists and conductors, and performing to paying audiences in top venues, in this country and abroad – as it does to this day. This very singular output – the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers – addressed the very practical need for an appropriate destination for the UK’s most outstanding teenage musicians, so that they might escape their regional isolation and continue their musical development together. It was also intended to provide war-torn Britain with an inspirational vision for the future. The experiment succeeded in both respects. Competition to win a place was fierce and NYO performances were widely feted, touring as far afield as the Soviet Union.