Striking the perfect summer chord

Akshay Agrawal

Senior John Chang's musical journey through historic European cities.

The Berliner Philharmonie in Berlin, Germany is a world famous concert hall and a site that thousands visit each year. Legendary musicians such as violinists Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma have all performed at the Philharmonie. This summer, the concert hall hosted another group of musicians: the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Senior John Chang was among the 114 SFYSO members, ranging in age from 12 to 22 that spent just over two weeks from June 25 to July 11 traveling through famed European cities to play at prestigious venues. Chang joined the group when he was a freshman, making this trip to Europe his first with the orchestra, though it was the organization's eighth overseas tour.


Preparing for the trip came long before the group's departure date. Rehearsals for the company are held every Saturday for four hours in San Francisco. Chang commutes by carpool every weekend, spending a total of an hour and a half per one-way trip on average. Though their rehearsals continued in Europe, the company made sure to accommodate for sight-seeing, with only one rule: be back in the hotel by midnight.

The company's rehearsal schedule in Europe stayed rigorous, but came with quite the treat for every musician: working with world famous violinist Julian Rachlin. Rachlin accompanied SFYSO in all their rehearsals in each city, which took place every other night, in preparation for their performances.

In Germany, the group performed in Rostock, Munich, Berlin, Ingolstadt, and Passau; they also performed in Czech Republic's Prague. Each performance cost concert-goers about 40 euro (about $60), money that helps finance the SFYSO organization as well as subsidize the cost of the trip for the musicians. The group played for audiences ranging in size from 1,000 seats to 2,440 at the Berlin Philharmonie. Some of the symphony pieces included Prokofiev's “Romeo & Juliet” and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, “The New World.” They were joined on stage by Rachlin each night, who performed two solo pieces: Sibelius' Violin Concerto and Bruch's Violin Concerto.

Chang, who has been playing violin for 10 years, intends to continue his musical career through college. While it was familiar and almost routine for him to play his instrument in front of large audiences, there were moments in his trip when he realized just how surreal the experience was.

“When you're playing in such big, historical venues, you think of the bigger picture of what you're doing week in and week out," Chang said.