Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Performs at Summa Cum Laude Festival in Vienna

When the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra sat down to plan its 2012 tour, one of the things the group was considering was participation in a festival. As we considered what would be the best one to include, the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival, held every year in Vienna, shot right to the top of the list. Spread over four days, it brings together young people from all around the globe to perform in one of Europe’s musical capitals. The festivities begin with an opening ceremony in the Stephansdom. Three days of performances in and around Vienna follow, including a workshop at the University of Music and an optional competition with multiple group categories.


One of the most exciting aspects about Summa Cum Laude is the access young musicians have to internationally renowned conductors and venues. The competition is held in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, home to the Vienna Philharmonic and arguably one of the finest halls in the world. Not only that, but if they competed well, they could be invited back to the Golden Hall to play at the festival’s Gala Winners’ Concert, where they would perform for all the festival goers as well as the general public.


We suggested MYSO start the tour in the Czech Republic and play in another prestigious venue: the Dvorák Hall of the Rudolfinum, where the group was accepted in a snap. MYSO decided to compete in Summa Cum Laude, so the performers knew they would get to play in Musikverein at least once. With the festival application submitted, we were on our dream tour-planning way.


Early last fall, I got an email from my colleague Nick Abbott, who was operating the tour out of our London office, with some updates from the festival:


The other significant piece of information is the location of the Gala Winners’ Concert: it will, unlike previous years and contrary to all announcements so far, not be held in the Musikverein…


My heart stopped. Not in the Musikverein?! And then I kept reading:


…It will be held in the Great Hall of the Konzerthaus. The competition will still be held in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. 


So, if MYSO was invited to the Gala Winners’ Concert, they would be able to say they played in the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus? Not one, but two of the most important venues in Vienna? Not bad! Not bad at all!


“Hearing the announcements, I didn’t know what either of those places looked like. But when I saw a photograph, I immediately recognized the venues from performances online and YouTube. That’s when I got really excited,” said Elliot Yang, MYSO cellist. “After I told my teachers about it and saw some of them geek a little, that’s when I started having daydreams.”


MYSO’s performances began with a concert in the House of Culture in Teplice, followed by the concert in the Dvorák Hall, which they deemed “magic!”


“That hall is fabulous,” Margery Deutsch, Senior Symphony Music Director, said. “The acoustics are so interesting. The students played differently than they ever have, and better than they ever have.”


When MYSO got to Vienna, they found it bursting at the seams. The group was joined by 1,400 other festival-goers, representing 35 ensembles from 19 countries. It was the biggest Summa Cum Laude festival ever.


“The festival was pretty eye-opening,” remembers Yang.“ Taking in the culture, scale and excitement took a second because I hadn’t experienced anything like it before.”


MYSO spent the next few days zipping around Vienna for run-out concerts, playing the competition program and doing workshops. The news came Sunday night: they’d not only won second place in the competition, but had also earned the final performance slot in the Gala Winners’ Concert! They were going to play to a sold-out Konzerthaus – their third world-famous venue in less than a week!


And how does such an honor feel? “It was fantastic!” Yang said. “I could really tell everyone was enjoying themselves and that they were trying to take in the experience as much as possible. I feel that the performance was great because both the orchestra on stage and the audience really seemed engaged. Seeing that many people was unreal. I felt like we were giving back to the festival with performances. For me, it was extremely humbling and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”