Bridging generations through music

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Celebrating its 100th anniversary, the 92nd Street Y Orchestra brings together instrumentalists who “make a difference in people’s lives”


  • Tomo Matsuo has been the 92Y Orchestra’s music director since 2014. Photo: Ed Panganiban

  • Music director Tomo Matsuo conducting the 92Y Orchestra. Photo: Ed Panganiban

  • Yana Stotland, director of the 92Y School of Music. Photo courtesy of 92Y

  • Cellilst Laura Navasardian, 14, first-place winner of the 92Y School of Music concerto competition. Photo courtesy of 92Y

  • Ian Maloney, 13, won a chance to perform in the 92Y School of Music concerto competition. Photo courtesy of 92Y

For the 92nd Street Y School of Music Orchestra, continuity is key.

Now in its centennial year, 92Y Orchestra is still committed to the same principles upon which it was founded in 1917. That is, providing musical opportunities to amateurs and non-professional musicians in New York City.

Of course, it isn’t entirely the same as it once was. As the longest-running community-based orchestra in New York City, 92Y Orchestra has transformed somewhat over the last 100 years. But while rehearsals, concert pieces and membership have all shifted slightly, the underlying goals of the orchestra have survived. In certain cases, the orchestra has even returned to its ancient customs without realizing it.

“We’ve made it full circle unintentionally,” said Yana Stotland, the director of the 92Y School of Music. She noted how the orchestra, which had departed from its original rehearsal time of 3 p.m. on Sundays a while ago, has now shifted back to that time as a result of changes throughout the years.

To Stotland, the orchestra’s ability to simultaneously celebrate its history while looking forward to the future is what has kept it relevant. The 92Y School of Music and accompanying orchestra foster programming for kids, adults, and senior citizens. The school, which boasts around 1000 students each semester, offers private music lessons, group instruction classes, chamber music classes and a chorus that exclusively performs selections from the American musical theater songbook.

“It’s such a beautiful union of sharing something that is universal,” said Stotland. “Music means a lot to these people.”

The 92Y School of Music Concerto Competition, which is open to students who are 17 years old and younger, gives budding musicians the rare opportunity to perform on stage with a semi-professional orchestra. The winners of the 2018 competition, 14-year-old Laura Navasardian and 13-year-old Ian Maloney, were the soloists for the 92Y Orchestra’s centennial concert on April 22.

“It was really an honor to win and just be a part of it,” said Navasardian, who has been playing the cello since she was six. Navasardian performed Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, the piece that won her first place at the 2018 concerto competition.

“If you are making people feel something, that’s what matters,” she said.

Maloney’s piece with the 60-member orchestra was Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major, which he started learning when he was eight-years-old. In addition to the cello, Maloney plays the piano and the trumpet and hopes to become a professional musician.

“That’s really what I want to do,” he said.

Musicians in the orchestra range from teenagers to people in their eighties and nineties; some people have been performing there for decades.

“I think it’s really the community that makes it different,” said Tomo Matsuo, the 92Y Orchestra’s music director since 2014. “They all sort of come together and shed their personas of their daily lives.”

Like many of the musicians in the orchestra, Matsuo also has a day job; he is an executive in financial services.

But despite the differences in the orchestra’s personnel, a love of music is the uniting factor for a group that spans generations.

To Stotland, who will be celebrating her eighth year with the 92Y school music in August, there is no more satisfying career than one in music.

“You make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “It sounds cliché, but you do!”

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