Hernandez

This summer, Bakersfield teen Nicholas Hernandez is serving as apprentice orchestra manager for the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, a student residency program of the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall.

As proof of the role persistence plays in success, please consider the story of 18-year-old Nicholas Hernandez, who right now is having the experience of a lifetime because he didn't take no for answer.

Last Saturday, Hernandez, who just graduated from East Bakersfield High School, landed in New York to become part of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA). The orchestra is a student residency program of the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall, consisting of three weeks of intensive rehearsal and training with leading musicians from America's top orchestras, followed by an international concert tour. The students live and rehearse at Purchase College, a campus of the State University of New York (SUNY), in Harrison, New York.

This is something Hernandez has wanted to do since he was a freshman.

"I saw the orchestra perform in 2014 at Disney Hall," Hernandez said.

Hernandez, who plays the bass, was performing in both the school orchestra and with the Bakersfield Youth Symphony, but the National Youth Orchestra was like nothing he had heard before. He wanted to be a part of the NYO, but knew it would be a challenge.

"I remember thinking, 'If I never get in this orchestra, I at least got to hear them,'" Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he spent the rest of his high school music career trying to get into the orchestra: learning the repertoire for the auditions and going through the lengthy audition process of applications, asking for references and Skype interviews with the audition committee. But Hernandez said it was hard to prepare musically.

"It's really easy to get bogged down," Hernandez said. "Musical resources aren't always accessible."

Despite his preparations and his local experience, which included serving as the principal bass for the BYSO for five years, Hernandez was unable to pass the auditions three years in a row.

This last year, college applications had become the bigger priority to preparing for another audition. But the disappointing results didn't stop Hernandez. Instead, he changed his focus and found another way to join the orchestra.

He is serving as the apprentice orchestra manager, something for which he was uniquely qualified, according to Doug Beck, director of artist training programs at Carnegie Hall.

"We were really impressed by Nicholas and by the extent of his awareness of what this program is about, his enthusiasm for the program," Beck said. "He's also a very analytical, thoughtful young man."

Beck noted that Hernandez was "quite a good bass player," and although he was unable to pass the performance audition, he was the standout in the selection process for this role.

"The tie-breaker is often looking for the person for whom this program would have the biggest impact," Beck said.

So, what does an apprentice orchestra manager do?

"A lot of the role of the orchestra manager is a kind of liaison between the conductor and the musicians," Beck said.

Sometimes, the job is a bit more basic.

"There's a bit of herding and cajoling and whatever else comes up," Beck said.

Hernandez said his work started even before arriving at the campus, with emails, conference calls and Skype sessions to prepare with the orchestra management. Since arriving, Hernandez said he has been immersed in the workings of the orchestra.

"I'm in and out of the staff's office all day," Hernandez reported by email from the campus. "I started working about an hour before any of the musicians are supposed to be on stage; I run around the (performing arts center) setting up for rehearsal and I make sure the the tiniest details are given the attention they deserve."

Hernandez said his daily tasks include taking attendance, making sure every kind of equipment musicians might need is on hand and assisting both the conductor as well as the orchestra manager. Larger assignments so far have included running all of the string auditions.

That is just the first week.

Beck said as Hernandez's skills develop, he will assume the responsibility for keeping the musicians informed of schedules and events, manage some smaller chamber music ensembles, and will job-shadow the orchestra manager and other professionals to learn the business side of an orchestra.

Hernandez said he has also seen something unexpected from his unique perspective: seeing how the individual musicians become an ensemble, as they communicate with each other inside the orchestra.

"You become aware that suddenly there is a very large and gentle beast in the room when they play together, and depending on the repertoire it will reveal a very intense range of emotions," Hernandez wrote.

Hernandez noted a first rehearsal of the Symphony No. 1 by Gustav Mahler.

"And there was a moment — and I mean ONE moment — when the theme started to move and pick up pace and all at once the string players dipped forward in their seats," Hernandez wrote.

"It's definitely one thing to hear them play, but to see their enthusiasm and love for what they do ... it's one of the nicest feelings I've ever had."

In addition to the Mahler symphony, the student orchestra, under the direction of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop, is performing John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," and a specially commissioned work, "Apu: Tone Poem for Orchestra," by Gabriela Lena Frank. They will give two concerts at Carnegie Hall, and then travel to Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia for concerts.

Hernandez will play a large role in managing the tour, and more. He will be working with other apprentices — the librarian who is in charge of all the music scores and the apprentice composers — to create a separate concert.

For Hernandez, this program will give him more options as he pursues a career in music. That includes attending UCLA in the fall as a music major, playing the bass.

"I think this is going to be a really good step in the path I want to go," Hernandez said.

"I guess the lesson from this is: keep trying for things you really want to do."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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