Two local teens’ passion for music has been the gateway to some unique experiences, but nothing has eclipsed the opportunity to showcase their talent at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
White Hall High School sophomore Carson Bohner and Rison native Brett Kelly have been selected as members of the 2014 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
This is the second year for NYO-USA and the first time that musicians from Arkansas have been selected.
The program, created by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, evaluates and chooses extraordinarily gifted young musicians, ages 16 to 19, to form a full-sized orchestra. The orchestra travels to different parts of the world, giving the musical prodigies an opportunity to play in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world.
“The depth of musical talent found across this country is remarkable and the young players who make up NYO-USA’s 2014 roster are amongst the very best,” Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, said in a press release.
Bohner is already an award-winning violinist who has played with the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra. Still, he said the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall at his age — in fact at any age — seems surreal.
“I would have never dreamed I would get there during my high school years,” Bohner said as he searched for words to describe his enormous gratitude. “Most professional musicians haven’t gotten there yet. Even if I had died and never gotten there, it wouldn’t have surprised me.”
One of the biggest surprises of his life so far came when his dad, Michael Bohner, informed him at school that he had received an acceptance notice from NYO.
“My best friend and I both started jumping … right in class,” Bohner said. “I am extremely excited.”
Bohner said that as excited as he is, his mother is more so.
“I am beside myself … I can’t stand it,” said Landie Bohner.
When the family decided Carson would apply for a position, Landie said they expected the process to be extremely competitive and were prepared to apply over several seasons. But Carson was selected after only one try — and out of more than a thousand applicants, according to Matt Carlson, assistant director of public relations at Carnegie Hall.
“He won,” Landie Bohner said with a broad proud smile. “”With all those kids competing from New York and Boston and Chicago … he won!”
So did Brett Kelly. A resident of Rison, Kelly studies music at Interlochen Arts Academy, a fine arts boarding high school located in northwestern Michigan. As a part of his studies, he recently traveled to China for spring break to perform and interact with musical artists in Beijing and Shanghai.
“You just can’t confine this kind of talent,” said Kelly’s mother, Deupree Kelly, a high school choir and middle school music teacher. Kelly’s father is Tim Kelly, an engineer for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. Brett Kelly said he was never partial to vocals and not very serious about music at all until he joined the band in sixth grade.
“From the moment I brought home my first instrument, I knew that I would stick with a horn for quite a while,” said the 16-year-old trombonist.
Kelly was just surfing the Web when he stumbled across the NYO opportunity. He applied but said he, too, had no expectation to win.
“In fact, my audition tape submissions were actually quite rushed despite the months of preparation I had undergone before taping,” he said. “This is very exciting. Very few instrumentalists ever have the chance to play in some of America’s greatest halls.”
In July, Bonner and Kelly will pack their instruments and head for Purchase College State University of New York, a school for the visual and performing arts located about 30 miles north of New York City. To prepare for their debut, they will train for two weeks with professional orchestra musicians and rehearse at the School for the Arts Conservatory of Music.
Bohner said he is confident he will be able to learn the music for the tour. Bill Fox, executive director of the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra, concurs, describing Bohner as “a first-class musician” with lots of ambition.
“He is a well-rounded, goal-oriented, talented individual who knows where he wants to go in life, sets his goal to go there and has every reason to expect it to happen,” Fox said.
Vouching for Kelly on the home front is Mark Windham, the University of Arkansas at Monticello Marching Band coordinator and Kelly’s former trombone teacher.
“Brett is one of the most eager and talented individuals that I have had the privilege of teaching privately,” Windham said. “And that’s one of the reasons he has excelled so.”
Windham said this is a “super proud” moment for Kelly and he expects big things for him in the future.
Before leaving for an eight-city tour, the full-size orchestra made up of approximately 120 young instrumentalists from around the country and Puerto Rico will have its first official performance July 20 at the Performing Arts Center in Purchase, NY.
On July 22, the symphony orchestra conducted by world-renowned David Robertson, conductor for the St. Louis Symphony, will debut in New York City at Carnegie Hall –one of the world’s most prestigious stages—with virtuoso violinist Gil Shaham.
Followed by their performance at Carnegie Hall, the orchestra will embark on a coast-to-coast tour with a grand finale at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
The Carnegie Hall performance will be streamed live online and available on select radio stations. For more information about the tour and the broadcast, visit carnegiehall.org.