After an exhaustive search, the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio have hired a new musical director in Troy Peters, currently the music director of the Vermont Youth Orchestra and conductor of the Middlebury College Orchestra. Present YOSA musical director Marlon Chen is retiring at the end of the season.
Peters, who’s also won acclaim in popular music circles as an orchestral collaborator with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, will relocate to San Antonio in August. While moving from the Vermont Youth Orchestra to YOSA might appear to be a lateral move, Peters says San Antonio’s diversity and larger size are significant factors.
“The big thing that was on my mind is that San Antonio is a city with a real diverse, kind of vibrant scene, it seems to me. And as a musician, the fact that it’s also close to Austin is of interest to me. So between the two, I felt like there was a lot of musical opportunities,” said Peters by phone today. “I’m really interested in, not only opportunities in classical music, but also in the way that different styles of music relate to each other and it seemed like a place where there was some receptiveness to that.”
Peters says Vermont has been great, but that it’s a small population with an inherently smaller music scene that can't match South Texas.
“The level of skill and the number of student musicians is not as high as it seems to be in San Antonio, so I think there’s more potential, musically, for the program at YOSA to grow a lot,” said Peters. He noted that YOSA has a great administrative staff and a national reputation, with executive director Steve Payne being someone people from other youth orchestras turn to when they have questions about how to put together projects.
Peters says he grew up playing rock, jazz and classical without putting a lot of walls between the styles and that he thinks a lot of young musicians now have that same attitude.
“I think it’s about not focusing on what the distinctions are, but focusing on what are the shared elements? Some of the work I’ve done has been built around that idea, especially of course the work I did with Trey Anastasio, has been about how the skills and perspectives that somebody has in one style of music can transfer and be explored in another style of music,” said Peters.
Peters says he and Anastasio shared some friends in the same circles in Vermont and that one day he heard Anastasio had an interest in classical music, particularly Ravel and Stravinsky, whom Peters also had an affinity for. So Peters sent him a letter saying that if he ever wanted to think about writing for orchestra, there was a great local group he could work with.
“Literally, I mailed that letter, and he called me the next day,” said Peters of the beginning of collaborations that have included several youth orchestra projects and recordings with Anastasio’s solo band. Peters says the first piece they did was purely orchestra, by Anastasio’s choice, as the guitarist wanted to focus on writing for orchestra.
“He was the composer and I was kind of collaborating with him on how to arrange for orchestra, how to deal with the notation and the number of instruments involved,” said Peters. “But I’ve done some of that work where somebody gives you something really simple and you do all the work for them, but with Trey it was a real collaboration, where he sat down and would present something… and we would refer to, there’s this spot in Bernstein or Ravel or Stravinksy, where this happens, and I want to have a similar kind of orchestration. He had a real knowledge of how the orchestra works, and I was just the guy helping him to find the details to get that in front of the orchestra and have it make sense.”
Peters says the stylistic table for YOSA is wide open, but that in the long term he’s very interested in how students collaborating with different styles can help them to explore new musical frontiers.
“I certainly wouldn’t rule out some of the people I’ve worked with in the past potentially being people we’re reaching out to, and I’ll be interested in looking at… artists who are in the region and what kind of relationships might make sense,” said Peters.
Will Peters’ presence here perhaps lure Anastasio to town to deliver one of his orchestral performances, such as the one happening May 21 in Baltimore?
“I would say that’s a conversation I might be having,” said Peters. “There’s certainly no firm plans at this point, but I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.”