Music

Sarah Alexander

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain is delighted to share the news that Sarah Alexander, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, has been appointed OBE. Content supplied by Eleven Tenths Media.

Sarah Alexander, who celebrates her 10th season in charge of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in 2018, has been appointed OBE in the New Year’s Honours list.
Under her remarkable leadership, NYO has evolved from an institution which benefited 164 young people in 2008 people to an organisation which will this year reach 10,000 
teenagers.

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.

As NYO matured its output continued to be as singular as ever. Yet, over time, a wonderful breadth and depth of incidental outcomes and impacts were observed. Gaining a seat in NYO led to the creation of musical friendships that helped sustain a lifetime’s devotion to music. Extraordinary levels of musical challenge and focused professional support combined with the peer-pressure to excel sent standards spiraling upwards year after year. Leadership skills were discovered and honed. Great achievements led to greater ambitions, professional careers were launched, music educationalists were inspired, and young audience members devoted themselves to orchestral instruments in emulation of the teenage brilliance of NYO musicians. Seasoned professionals found a unique forum in which they could pass on their knowledge and love of orchestral music to succeeding generations. The immediate benefits were strictly limited to 164 top teenage musicans and their audiences; yet NYO’s long-term beneficial impact on the musical life of the UK was incalculable, a fact that was acknowledged in 2012 with the award of the Queen’s Medal for Music.  

Over the last decade, without ever losing sight of its singular, big-impact output – the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers – NYO has been developing these ‘incidental outcomes’ to create a unique, peer-led approach to orchestral preparation and performance. This has enabled it to increase its impact on traditional beneficiaries – a seat in NYO is a more lifechanging experience than ever before. While the core output has deepened in its impact, at the same time NYO is employing the same expertise in order to bring much-needed benefits to many more teenagers, particularly musicians and audiences from state school backgrounds, who are increasingly disadvantaged relative to young people in private education. In doing so NYO have enabled more state-school and BAME musicians to reach the standard necessary to win a seat in the orchestra, increasing the social and ethnic diversity of the orchestra.  

The expansion in NYO activity has been highly significant. The NYO of 2008 resembled that of 1948 in that it directly benefited only 164 teenage musicians and their audiences. While the orchestra is still at the heart of everything it does, in 2018 NYO plans to give NYO Inspire workshops and performance opportunities (lasting between one day and two weeks) to more than 1000 committed teenage musicians playing at Grade 6 or above, who currently lack opportunities to advance their playing. Over 2000 teenage musicans in state schools will participate in NYO or NYO Inspire Orchestra Play the School musical workshops, and over 7000 teenage audience members will hear NYO or the NYO Inspire Orchestra performing live in their secondary school. The culture of NYO has changed from one of receiving, to one of giving: NYO orchestral musicians together give over 1000 days to deliver the NYO Inspire programme, and many find this work as rewarding as giving high-profile concerts. Furthermore, NYO has become integrated into the music education landscape as never before: In 2017 NYO collaborated with 90% of Music Education Hubs, drawing on regional expertise to target NYO musical opportunities where they are most needed. In future NYO plans to improve dissemination of its unique and powerful peer-led approach to orchestral preparation through targeted collaboration with the Music Education Hubs, and improved CPD (continued professional development) for music education professionals. 

It is early days, but the much-needed positive impact NYO Inspire is having on musical life in

the UK was first recognised in 2016, when NYO CEO Sarah Alexander was given Association of British Orchestras Orchestra Manager of the Year award. Now with this accolade, NYO continues from strength to strength.

Performances

Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall 6 January & London’s Barbican 7 January.

NYO’s forthcoming concerts, performing a complete opera for the first time in its 70 year history under the direction of Sir Mark Elder.

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