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‘We felt like rock stars’

Eric Chen, who plays the viola, was one of two Northeastern students who performed in Brazil for the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

In front of a sold-out concert hall in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Diego Bacigalupe listens closely for his cue to begin his clarinet solo. He’s nervous. As the flutist’s solo winds down, Bacigalupe readies his fingers over the tone holes. His mind goes on auto-pilot. 

Over the next minute, alongside world-renowned pianist Anna Federova, he plays the first clarinet solo in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. As the conductor has encouraged him to, he adds his own subtle touches with changes of volume and vibrato. At the end of the solo when the flutes join in, he knows he’s “nailed it.”

“For me, that was hitting a musical peak. I’m never gonna forget it,” recalls Bacigalupe, one of two Northeastern students who recently toured eight cities in Brazil as part of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. “We felt like rock stars, playing there in front of that sold-out crowd. It felt like we were this popular artist and everyone was really grateful for us to be there.”

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra played nine concerts in eight cities across Brazil, many of which were in front of sold-out audiences, such as this one in the Araújo Vianna Auditorium in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Diego Bacigalupe, who’s been in the youth orchestra for six years, added his own subtle touches to the first clarinet solo of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 playing alongside world-renowned pianist Anna Federova. Photos courtesy of Paul Marotta/Perfect Bokeh Photography

Bacigalupe and Eric Chen, who plays the viola, performed with the 100-person orchestra in nine concerts over two weeks in cities throughout the eastern coast of Brazil.

Bacigalupe has been a part of the orchestra for six years, and had been on four other tours before this one. But this time, he says, he felt the most freedom to explore and express himself musically.

“This trip was musically fulfilling,” says Bacigalupe, who studies computer science and computer engineering at Northeastern. “What I love about the orchestra is that our conductor doesn’t want us to play conventionally all the time. He allowed us to play with more freedom. The solo was easy to play, but what was hard was taking advantage of the chance to go beyond what’s written and adding my own ideas to it.”

This was Chen’s first year in the orchestra. He says what struck him wasn’t what they did on stage but what they did outside of the concert halls, through their interactions with the local Brazilians.

“Many of the locals didn’t have that many instruments so people started donating their old instruments,” says Chen, who also studies computer science at Northeastern. “I found that really heartwarming. I thought this was going to be another one of those ’Oh yeah let’s go visit another country and just play music,’ but I didn’t realize the impact that we’re actually having on the communities that we were visiting.”

Taking the stage in venues such as the Municipal Theatre in Rio, where Bacigalupe nailed that Rachmaninoff solo, brought that realization home.

“It was like if you’re like a soccer player and you’re playing in Wembley Stadium, or if you’re a basketball or hockey player playing in the Madison Square Garden,” Bacigalupe says. “You know, all these places have so much history. I feel privileged to be a part of it, and I’ll always cherish the memories, and the recordings, too.”

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