In discovering my own path, I’ve come to realize that I don’t share all the same goals as many young conductors. While conducting professional groups is important to me, my true desire is to be involved with many types of programs and assist in the development of young musicians of all ages. And I am overjoyed to have leading roles in programs for all ages and levels, middle school through professional, with all my current positions.
NEC Prep gave me my first orchestral experiences when I was an 11 year old oboist in the Youth Repertory Orchestra (YRO). We played Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. I was so enthralled by all the moving parts in the orchestra! Even back then I was drawn to how everything was put together… not just my own part. Sure I wanted to sound as good as possible (like everyone else), but I was even more entranced by looking at why composers made their musical choices and how that created an entirely new world. Furthermore, I was fascinated at how the conductor chose to interpret and implement those details in a way that allowed the music to speak to everyone.
I began playing in the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (YPO), the top of NEC’s Prep orchestras. And that forever changed me. What made my time there so powerful was not only the incredible music we put together (Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphoses, Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #2, Shostakovich Symphony #5), but where we took that music. I was privileged to tour Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela. In the final leg of our tour, we connected with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and learned firsthand the powerful and universal effects of music. I have always said music has saved my life and I’m sure many of my colleagues and friends can remark similarly. In Caracas, where there are 60 homicides a weekend alone, music programs such as El Sistema, have literally saved thousands of children’s lives by keeping them away from gangs, dangerous drugs, and violence. I realized it’s not just about great music and great performance, but educating people and helping those in need… to inspire others to grow… to unite people from all over the world as best as we can.
One rehearsal during my 2nd year in YPO, the conductor randomly called on me to come and conduct the slow brass chorale section in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. I stood in front of the orchestra and had a life-altering experience. I was amazed by everything and I was fortunate to show another part of my musical persona… a side that no one really knew. I am forever grateful for this experience. It assured and confirmed that, even though I wasn’t ready to announce it publicly, I really wanted to be a conductor.
The summers of my freshman and junior undergraduate years at New England Conservatory I worked for the Festival Youth Orchestra as an oboe teacher, woodwind coach, and assistant conductor. Although the program was in its startup years, I saw it as a vital music festival because so many of the area’s music happenings were 2 hours west in Tanglewood. There isn’t anything like FYO in Boston during the summer.
Having moved to Chicago this past August, I became the Director of Conservatory Orchestras at the Merit School of Music, a staff conductor at Roosevelt Chicago College of the Performing Arts, and Director of an El Sistema-inspired orchestra called the YOURS Project for the People’s Music School. As co-director of Holographic, I continue to explore new music for orchestra. No matter the age and level of the orchestra, all of my past experiences join me whenever (and wherever) I take the podium… and I use them every day as the basis for my teaching.
My all-encompassing view of education and performance is largely due to all my time at NEC. When asked if I wanted to return and lead the Festival Youth Orchestra for their 3-week program, I jumped at the opportunity because I believe in the program so much. I’m honored to be chosen for this position so I can give back to a wonderful organization that has played a huge role in who I am today as an artist and person. My name is Ben Bolter. I’m a Boston-born Chicago-based conductor who will be the Music Director for this summer’s Festival Youth Orchestra at New England Conservatory.