Empire State Youth Orchestra Name Etienne Abelin as New Musical Director

SCHENECTADY –  Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO), regionally and nationally known as a creative and dynamic force in artistic and ensemble-based music education, announced today that its Board of Directors appointed Swiss conductor, violinist and creative entrepreneur Etienne Abelin to be their new Music Director as of March 7th. Hailed as a “post-classical pioneer” by BBC Music Magazine and an “icon of new ways in classical music” by Musica Viva Magazine Brazil, Abelin brings a spirit of innovation and fresh perspectives to an established regional leader in the arts and education.

ESYO’s interim Board Chair and public school music teacher, Omar Williams, said, “Etienne stood out from a global pool of conductors as an extraordinary musician, an inspiring educator, and a visionary in the field. He is creative, dynamic, and thoughtful. His holistic approach to music-making creates a culture of belonging and inclusion that is at the core of ESYO’s mission. ESYO is excited to have Etienne at the podium leading our organization in the service of our student-musicians.”

Etienne Abelin, who moved to the Capital Region from Basel, Switzerland, has a storied career. He studied violin at the Musik-Akademie Basel, Oberlin College, and Indiana University, earned an Executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and later studied conducting at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Delaware.

Etienne won the exceptional privilege of being a musical collaborator of 18 years with classical music legend conductor Claudio Abaddo. Handpicked by Mr. Abaddo to be a founding member of the prestigious Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the principal second violin of the Orchestra Mozart Bologna, Etienne’s artistry is internationally renowned.

As a conductor, he has performed with orchestras throughout Europe, including the Beethoven Orchester Bonn, the Musikkollegium Winterthur, the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and the Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa in venues such as the Royal Festival Hall London, Teatro alla Scala Milano and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens. His enthusiasm for new, genre-crossing music led him to conduct world premieres by Gabriel Prokofiev and William Brittelle as well as Swiss premieres of works by Nico Muhly, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Fabrizio Cassol, and others. Etienne has made headlines in Europe and the United States for co-founding the Ynight-Classical Music in Clubs Series and the Apples & Olives Indie Classical Festival. Recently he enjoyed the distinction of being featured as one of five visionary conductors in the documentary series Conducting the Future alongside Marin Alsop, former ESYO music director Paavo Järvi, Lars Vogt, and Miguel Perez Iñesta.

Etienne, who is just as passionate about education and technology as he is about music, is excited to be part of the creative landscape in New York’s “Tech Valley” region: “There are many fascinating developments in music and music education today, and I’m especially looking towards integrating with other music genres and art forms, particularly through technology. I’m excited to help position ESYO as an incubator for new collaborations and for new ways of connecting our young musicians with local communities,” said Abelin.

Most recently, Etienne co-created Music:Eyes — See what you Hear, a music tech-ed start-up platform that harnesses the power of music animation to support education in the classroom and the concert hall. Since its creation, Music:Eyes has evolved into a non-profit association with international partnerships with such organizations as the Berlin Philharmonic, the European Union Youth Orchestra, Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Columbia University and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Etienne shared the concept of Music:Eyes on the TEDx stages of Amsterdam, Netherlands and Zurich, Switzerland. A founding member of Sistema Europe, Abelin currently serves as a member of the Sistema Europe Board of Directors and in 2013 co-founded the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra (SEYO) and helped develop the “7 Dimensions of Musical Excellence” framework that guides the SEYO program today.

Rebecca Calos, ESYO’s Executive Director, is excited to partner with Abelin to realize the vision outlined in the organization’s strategic plan. “Etienne possesses that rare combination of brilliant vision and compassionate empathy. Our students were captivated from his first moment in rehearsal and since then they have been abuzz about his creative energy and passion. I am so excited to partner with Etienne as we build a strategic roadmap out of the pandemic and toward a bright future for our youth and for our musical community,” said Calos.

Etienne’s vision for ESYO focuses on empowering young musicians using an approach he calls “Music NOW”: “Music is full of powerful stories, full of profound emotions. In addition to helping celebrate diverse heritages and their histories, music can create bridges and belonging in our painfully polarized world – especially since it can do so without words. But in order to bring music to life and to move the people around us, it’s essential for us to learn how to move ourselves, breathe together, listen, and tell captivating stories when we play music together,” said Abelin.

“I envision ESYO as a laboratory for this kind of musicianship and being, where we’ll work with dancers, actors, and artists of all kinds in order to become fully present and expressive, to shape the moment, enter states of flow, and live in a spirit of improvisation even when we play composed music. I believe in using legacy to create something new, at times raw, at times tender. In doing so, we become “NOW-musicians” and healers in a fractured world. I’m thrilled to embark on this journey with the fabulous young musicians of ESYO and the wonderful ESYO team and board I’m currently having the pleasure to get to know and to begin this profound work with, he continued.”

Etienne’s debut ESYO performance will be on Sunday, April 3rd, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The matinee performance, which begins at 3:00 pm, features Elgar’s deeply expressive Cello Concerto performed by Eujeong Choi, Niskayuna Sophomore, and the 2022 Lois Lyman Concerto Competition Winner. . Etienne will also lead the Symphony Orchestra at the 2022 Playathon, ESYO’s musical marathon event at Crossgates Mall on Saturday, March 26th.

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