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GustavoIn conjunction with the LA Phil‘s Asian Tour, four musicians from HOLA’s YOLA at HOLA program traveled to Japan with 11 of their peers from the YOLA at Expo program. John, Kevin, Macy and Miguel went through a rigorous selection process which included a written essay and audition. After weeks of preparation, including a visit to Little Tokyo and Japanese lessons with Miss Megumi, the students boarded the 16 hour flight to Tokyo. Once in Tokyo, the 15 young musicians boarded a high speed bullet train for Soma, a city in the Fukushima region of Japan, the region that was devastated four years ago by an earthquake, tsunami and a nuclear power plant accident. The students were in the Soma region to rehearse and perform with members of El Sistema Japan, a program that was started after the nuclear accident. The students spent several days with their Japanese counterparts. Miguel was worried about how he was going to communicate with the Japanese musicians, but that turned out to be the most memorable part of his trip. “We communicated with hand gestures and through our music.”

The students were on a very packed rehearsal schedule, but did have some time to tour the city and see first hand the impact of the disaster. Kevin found the experience to be “kind of surreal. Sometimes I was lost, sometimes it felt like LA, but most times I just felt sorrow for the devastation that had taken place. We saw some of the houses that were abandoned due to the disaster, and saw a lot of the effects of the nuclear accident on the barren land throughout Fukushima.”

At the conclusion of their visit to Soma, both orchestras traveled to Tokyo for an open rehearsal and performance at Suntory Hall with Gustavo Dudamel. The students were thrilled to once again have the opportunity to play and learn from Gustavo. But for Miguel, the thrill was extra special, this was the first time he got to meet the Maestro and even had a chance to speak with him back stage after the performance. Miguel fondly recounts their conversation, “there’s more to come” Gustavo told him.

HOLA’s Music Director, Christine Witkowski, traveled with the students and explained the impact of such a trip on them: “I have students in my program at HOLA who have never been to the beach before. So to have the opportunity to be a world traveler and to feel valued as a person who can be an ambassador — it’s a really big sense of importance for the students.” The students each recounted how much they enjoyed meeting and getting to know their YOLA at Expo counterparts and returned having developed deep bonds with their fellow HOLA musicians.

Brian Lauritzen, producer and host of Classical KUSC’s nationwide concert broadcasts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, traveled with the young musicians to Fukushima and Tokyo. Click on the links below to read Brian’s blog posts and articles that appeared in the LA Times and on KPCC.

Brian Lauritzen’s Blog

Youth Orchestra Rides the LA Philharmonic’s Coattails to Japan

YOLA and a Musical Experiment in Fukushima, Japan

L.A. Phil’s YOLA Players Are Goodwill Ambassadors Near Fukushima

Young Musicians Meet Gustavo Dudamel Up Close and Personal

Language Barriers Disappear as Young Musicians from LA and Japan Unite


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