Many siblings have achieved artistic fame as a team – among them, the Grimms penned fairytales; the Smothers did television comedy and the Coens make films. Montgomery County’s Sanz brothers – born and bred in Rockville and alumni of Olney’s Our Lady of Good Counsel High School — guide talented young people to make their marks in the realm of musical theater.
In 2011, Rolando and Kristofer Sanz founded the nonprofit Young Artists of America (YAA) to train middle- and high school-level performing artists to present fully-orchestrated productions. As their organization’s artist-mentors, the brothers, each of whom had, and continues to have, his own flourishing musical career, found a way to combine their talents.
“One of the reasons we started YAA together was to have the opportunity to work together, since our musical worlds did not really have an opportunity to intersect. So we created a way,” explained Rolando Sanz, the elder brother who is a professional opera singer and YAA’s producing artistic director.
Photo Credit: Carmelita Watkinson
Kristofer Sanz serves as music director of Young Artists of America.
“We never really worked together before this, and YAA was created, in part, to give us a chance to bring our collective talents together,” agreed Kristofer Sanz, an orchestra conductor who serves as music director for both YAA and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras.
The brothers’ first joint venture was a concert that featured some of Kristofer’s orchestral students and some of Rolando’s voice students. “It was quite a success, and we were immediately asked when the next concert would take place,” Rolando recalled. “And YAA was born!”
Three years later, Strathmore invited YAA to be its first affiliate organization, and now, Rolando said, YAA is Strathmore’s resident musical theater training program. When they created YAA, Kristofer said, “our dream was to bring this group to Strathmore. Through exciting programming, collaborating within the community and following our dreams, we were able to.”
Along with YAA Executive Director Lisa Larragoite, both brothers work “on all aspects of planning, budgeting and execution of our various programs and initiatives.”
“We are always looking for talented, and more importantly, dedicated students who are looking to be part of a vibrant community that can help them build their skills in the performing arts,” Rolando said. Admission to YAA’s orchestral, vocal and acting programs is by audition. “After playing through their repertoire, Kristofer said, “we give each student a quick private lesson to see how they learn and if they fit into the pace and model YAA has put into place.”
One of two shows YAA produces each year, “Les Misérables” will take the stage of the Music Center at Strathmore on the afternoon of Saturday, March 16. The cast of more than 300 performers includes 80 singers, dancers and actors from YAACompany and YAAjunior; a 60-piece youth symphonic orchestra and a 150-member guest chorus from Germantown’s Seneca Valley High School.
Why did they choose “Les Mis”? “It’s a story that needs to be told again and again, because it is about imperfect justice, human rights and life’s search for meaning,” explained Rolando. “The show is also perfect for our setup at Strathmore, including full symphonic orchestra, large casts and guest chorus. This is definitely a show whose turn it was to the receive the “YAA treatment!”
Kristofer agreed, describing “Les Mis” as “a perfect vehicle to showcase the extreme amount of talent that we have both on the orchestral and vocal side. This show is a mainstay in today’s modern musical society and one that we had yet to tackle.”
Their own family had no music professionals. “Our family always had varied music playing at home, but none were trained musicians per se. But our mom and grandmother did ballet in Cuba where they were raised,” Rolando said.
The brothers’ positive middle and high school mentorship experiences contributed to a shared conviction that nurturing talent at this age is invaluable. “I was fortunate to perform in the children’s chorus at the Washington Opera in middle school, which really turned me on to opera,” he said, adding “I knew then I wanted to devote my life to the stage.” He also cited “a wonderful summer stock teacher (Lukie Tannenbaum) … who really instilled a love for theater and music” in him. In turn, Kristofer credited his high school band director (Richard Slocum) as his role model who “inspired me to follow music as a career and to not be afraid to share my musical voice.”
After high school, each brother followed his own musical path. Rolando studied at the Catholic University of America and Yale University, and Kristofer at University of Maryland, where his way was defined by a concert he went to during freshman year. Although he first pursued classical saxophone, at a performance of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, Kristofer was “moved to tears by music for the first time; that was when I first got turned on to the orchestral world. After that, I decided that I wanted to conduct this amazing sonic soundscape and looked for any opportunity to be in front of an orchestra.”
The Sanzes are pleased with all they have accomplished. “YAA started as a small program run by two brothers, but has quickly evolved into the premier training program for young performing artists in the region,” Rolando said.
Kristofer is “proudest of is the opportunity to combine both orchestral and vocal musicians together into a genre that doesn’t really exist in our area. The fact that all these kids are choosing to work together for the betterment of art and society speaks highly to the mission of the organization.” And Rolando is “proudest of the community and culture we have created. Our families are wonderful, generous people who value excellence and hard work as part of the aesthetic of YAA.”
“The sky is the limit,” both brothers said of the future of YAA. “We really have been expanding at a rocketship pace,” Kristofer observed. “In five to 10 years, who knows, as long as we are sticking to our musical dreams and working with the area’s finest musicians,
Photo Credit: Carmelita Watkinson
Working together: Rolando Sanz directs as Kristofer Sanz conducts in the Young Artists of America they created together.
More of the same as well as upping the ante are on the table. Rolando intends “to continue my personal work as a professional opera singer, producer of interesting and important works, as well as continuing my work in arts education to help shape the next generation of young artists.” And Kristofer plans “to conduct as much as I can, to interact with as many different young musicians as possible, and to keep alive the orchestral tradition while educating our constituents about the value of playing the repertoire that we do.”
The Young Artists of America presents the School Edition of “Les Misérables” at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. A pre-performance concert by YAAjunior will begin at 2:15 p.m. in the Strathmore Lobby. Tickets, ranging from $18 to $58, are available at www.yaa.org/tickets. Call 301-272-8604 for information.