Harmony in the EU? The European Union Youth Orchestra Shows us how

Article published on May 27, 2014
Article published on May 27, 2014

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Most of the EU In­sti­tu­tions may still have some fine-tuning to do, but for the "Eu­ro­pean Union Youth Or­ches­tra", it is part of every­day life. Since 1976 the orchestra has given gifted young mu­si­cians from all EU Mem­ber States the op­por­tu­nity to tour with chal­leng­ing sched­ules and renowned pro­fes­sion­als. Along the way, they also demon­strate how har­mo­nious Eu­rope could be.

Do­mi­nik from Ger­many, Babis from Greece, Pa­trycia from Spain, and Vilém and Radka from the Czech Re­pub­lic all have a rigid sched­ule. As mem­bers of the EUYO they didn't come to Greece for the swim­ming op­por­tu­ni­ties, but to com­plete a re­mark­able pro­gramme dur­ing their one-week stay in Thes­sa­lo­ni­ca: Re­hearsals, a con­cert in the evening, two the follow­ing morn­ing for chil­dren and young peo­ple and a trip to a night­club in the evening. In ad­di­tion, they ex­plain to groups of schoolchil­dren ex­actly what kind of in­stru­ments they have and how they work.

They all have one thing in com­mon: They play in the Eu­ro­pean Union Youth Or­ches­tra (EUYO), com­posed of up to 140 young up-and-com­ing mu­si­cians from (by now) all 28 Mem­ber States of the Eu­ro­pean Union, who tour twice a year. This spring they trav­elled to Abu Dhabi, where no less than Vla­di­mir Ash­kena­zy was on the con­duc­tor's stand and EU­YO-Alum­ni and star­ cel­list Gar­tier Ca­pu­con per­formed with the or­ches­tra. The open­ing con­cert took place in Thes­sa­lo­ni­ca where, be­sides the music, it was all about com­ing to­gether.

In re­sponse to my ques­tions con­cern­ing their at­ti­tude to Eu­rope, whether this was an issue when they au­di­tioned for the or­ches­tra and whether they see them­selves as Eu­ro­pean or not, at first I re­ceive a con­fused look. 'It's re­ally just about the music,' says Babis, a music teacher from Athens. 'It's sim­ply a good or­ches­tra. In Graz, where I study, we al­ways play with peo­ple from all over the world, so for me it's com­pletely nor­mal', adds Pa­trycia, a cel­list from Ma­drid. Tak­ing Eu­rope for granted like this sur­prises me, and Char­lot­te, PR per­son and or­gan­i­sa­tional pivot and linch­pin for the or­ches­tra no­tices my dis­ap­point­ment: 'We al­ways say that the or­ches­tra is a metaphor for how the EU should work. It cre­ates har­mony and shows the best of all Eu­ro­pean na­tions.'

"We don't sit around and dis­cuss pol­i­tics"

That sounds more like a well-worded an­swer, al­though it is not the the­o­ret­i­cal idea which gives the or­ches­tra its par­tic­u­lar aura, but rather the re­laxed in­ter­ac­tion among the mu­si­cians. Pol­i­tics is a side issue. To a greater de­gree, they put into prac­tice what Brus­sels so des­per­ately strives for: di­rect ex­change, en­coun­ters and (pro­fes­sional) co­op­er­a­tion. 'We see a lot when we're trav­el­ling', says con­tra­bassist Do­mi­nik, who would de­fine him­self as Bavar­ian rather than Ger­man. 'And in doing so, they ex­change views', adds Char­lot­te. 'We don't sit around and dis­cuss pol­i­tics. It wouldn't make any sense. But I no­tice how they learn from one an­other on a cul­tural level. They ask ques­tions, for ex­am­ple about all the graf­fiti we see here in Greece, and they get an­swers. And then an in­ter­cul­tural di­a­logue is born.'

music and eu­rope going hand in hand

This morn­ing, classes of school­children are being hosted in the con­cert hall in Thes­sa­lo­ni­ca, hav­ing been in­vited to a spe­cial event by EUYO. A host in­tro­duces the in­di­vid­ual na­tions of the or­ches­tra. Fre­netic ap­plause for the Greek mu­si­cians, scat­tered boos for the Ger­mans. Even among Greeks younger than 16, the cri­sis man­age­ment of the Ger­man gov­ern­ment has made it­self felt.

But then the music has its say and dis­solves every­day pol­i­tics into eu­phony. A boy and a girl from the au­di­ence are called up to the stage and give con­duct­ing a go.  The sym­bol­ism of the ini­tia­tive is found when one con­sid­ers the back­drop; we are talk­ing about a coun­try be­long­ing to a lost gen­er­a­tion where youth un­em­ploy­ment has gone be­yond the 60% mark. After the con­cert the mu­si­cians split up and show their in­stru­ments to in­di­vid­ual groups of school­child­ren. 'They thought that up them­selves', ex­plains Char­lotte, while the chil­dren gaze at the vi­o­lins and cel­los, spell­bound, or de­light in the pre­pos­ter­ous sounds peo­ple can make with wind in­stru­ments. 

J.N. Hum­mel's Trum­pet Con­certo in­ter­preted by the Eu­ro­pean Youth Or­ches­tra (2012). 

The EUYO is a tal­ent pool which com­bines artis­tic pro­fes­sion­al­ism with a sense of re­spon­s­ibil­ity for cul­ture and so­ci­ety. Far from the po­lit­i­cal band­stand of Brus­sels, Berlin or Lon­don, the young mu­si­cians are liv­ing out a re­al­ity which is ex­em­plary for what Eu­rope could be. Their in­ter­ac­tions with one an­other con­tain no con­tra­dic­tions be­tween the var­i­ous na­tional and re­gional iden­ti­ties and the Eu­ro­pean con­cept. 'When I'm in Spain, I feel like a Eu­ro­pean, and when I'm abroad I see my­self as Span­ish', ex­plains cel­list Pa­trycia dur­ing the in­ter­view. One thing above all is clear: Pol­i­tics is not sim­ply an ad­min­is­tra­tive deed; first and fore­most it emerges when co­op­er­a­tion and togeth­er­ness are ex­pe­ri­enced.

This ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished on 28th April 2014 at www.​eu­dys­see.​net