Thomas Juhasz '26 on BPYO's Upcoming 2023 South Africa Tour
// Photo courtesy of Thomas Juhasz.
Thomas Juhasz ’26 is no stranger to WHRB; we’ve interviewed the oboist once before. More recently, we spoke to him about his experience touring with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO), as well as what he is looking forward to in the orchestra’s upcoming South Africa tour. The tour, which will take place from June 15 to June 24, will feature performances of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. BPYO will also perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, in which they will be joined by the Gauteng Choristers, soprano Andiswa Makana, and mezzo soprano Bongiwe Nakani Mcetywa. Click here to learn more about the tour.
_The transcript below has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
WHRB: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Thomas Juhasz: Yeah, sure. So I'm Thomas, I just finished my freshman year at Harvard and I am currently thinking of studying some combination of classics and computer science.
WHRB: How did you get introduced to classical music? And why did you choose to play the oboe?
Thomas: So both of my parents are amateur musicians. They played pretty seriously through high school and studied through college. So from a very young age, classical music was always playing on the radio, and I just really loved it from the very beginning. I spent hours just listening to it, and I sang along. When I was three years old I was gifted this little red piano that was like two feet tall, and I would just play rhythms on that. And then I really started to take official piano lessons when I was six years old, which then led to my introduction to the oboe in fifth grade. There's just something that I really loved about the sound of the oboe. My mom is an oboist, so I had heard her play that from the very beginning, and I just really love the flexibility, the very human quality to it. I think it's kind of a fragile sound, and I just really loved all the lyrical solos and melodies that I heard her play. So yeah, my mom was actually my introduction to the oboe. She taught me until I was in ninth grade, so I really appreciate her support, and all of the love that she gave along the way.
WHRB: How did you hear about BPYO, and why did you audition?
Thomas: Funnily enough, both of my parents played in Benjamin Zander's orchestra when they were in high school, which was then the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra at NEC (New England Conservatory). So as a result, they had always been tracking his activity. In 2012 he founded the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and I was privileged to attend one of the concerts the first season, which was Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and I was just so blown away with their performance. I still vividly remember it even though it was over 10 years ago. From then on I just had a goal that I was going to eventually get into the BPYO. I was very privileged to get in as a ninth grader, which was quite an experience because I was definitely the youngest in the wind section, I think the youngest ever. It was a really good experience. Everybody was such an amazing mentor to me; all of the oboists were in the conservatory, so they really took me under their wing and supported me and answered any questions I had, helped me with making reeds and all of that.
WHRB: Are you involved in music ensembles on campus? How do they differ from your musical experiences in BPYO?
Thomas: I think that what's really unique about BPYO is that it's such a large age range. It ranges from people 12 years old to 22, and sometimes even older. Whereas in HRO or any other groups on campus, you know everybody's around the same age; we’re all undergrads. Which is really nice in the sense that I tend to really know everyone very well already. I think our music making improves as a result, because we know each other’s tendencies, our personalities, and we can kind of form something very united as a whole. At the same time, I think that's what makes BPYO special because we are all playing the same piece of music together, and yet we are all from such different backgrounds, such different ages, and we are able to still craft something together all as one. I think as a result, I'm able to really get to know a lot of people who are different ages from me, which was definitely the case when I was younger because I was probably one of the smallest people there, and yet I was playing with a lot of older people which I never would have been able to do before. And now I kind of see myself on the other side, where I am now getting to be older, and I now see a lot of people that are 13 and 14. It’s just so heartening to see them, and it's really encouraging. It reminds me of when I was that age, and it really inspires me to try to switch places with the oboists who I had met when I was entering the orchestra.
WHRB: What is it like to go on tour with BPYO?
Thomas: BPYO tour is always super packed. Usually the day is either spent traveling between cities or having musical changes, sight-seeing, having a concert in the evening, or any combination, some days all of them. I think the mission of our tour is to share our love for music with anyone we encounter, whether it be the audience for our concerts or the people we play music with during exchanges, or even just local tourists that we see when we roam the city. So I think, as a result, it's just a really rich experience because we're not only there to see the sites, which is always really exciting, but also to really share what we love, share a part of ourselves as people in America and as classical musicians. I think it's really inspiring to see the effect we have on other people just through our music because often we go to countries where we don't speak the same language, and it's very difficult to form a very deep bond with them with the short amount of time we have. Yet I think through the music we're able to achieve that. It’s been so incredible. I’ve toured to Brazil, to Greece, and we were going to tour to South Africa back in 2020, but unfortunately it didn't happen because of Covid. But I'm just really excited to see what ends up happening with this tour. I think it'll be a really rich experience.
WHRB: What's your favorite thing about going on tour?
Thomas: Oh, that's a tough question. There's always so much to be excited about for tour. But I think it's probably growing together as musicians and people in the orchestra. I think something really special happens during tour, just through the nature of what we're doing together. Traveling together, exploring the city together, playing music together. By the end of tour, I often feel like I've really formed a deep bond with every person in the orchestra that I met. When I was younger, that would have never happened in another place. I would have never become friends with somebody almost 10 years older than me. I think it's just through the nature of doing the same thing together for a united purpose that brings us closer together, especially when we're in a different place. By the end of tour, I have to say, I feel like we're kind of just a really big second family, and it's always so hard to leave because we had just grown so close by the end of tour.
WHRB: Have you ever been to South Africa before? Is there anything about South Africa that you're particularly excited about?
Thomas: No, I've never been to South Africa before. It should be really exciting. I just think that it's such a unique country to tour. Just a very different lifestyle in general. I heard recently that there's a drought, and also that there's not necessarily electricity throughout the entire day. So I'm just really excited to have that experience of living differently from what I'm used to. But in addition there will be cultural musical exchanges which I think will be particularly plentiful this tour, sometimes twice a day. Just to give an example of some things we might do, I think we'll be participating in Youth Day, which is a national holiday in South Africa. We're going to be playing with the Field Band Foundation, which is about 150 people. We're going to be marching together for 1.2 kilometers, and playing with each other. So I think those kinds of things are going to be such great bonding experiences with the people of South Africa.
WHRB: What is your favorite piece that you'll be performing, and why?
Thomas: I would have to say Mahler Symphony No. 2. As I mentioned, I heard it played by the BPYO back in 2013. In general, I would say that's probably my favorite overall classical music piece. I think it just really speaks to the human experience, and I think by the end of listening to the piece or performing it, I always feel like I've gone through a huge journey. I think it is really able to encompass human emotion in a deep way that I would not be able to experience in any other medium, even through words or video or anything like that. It's just such a moving piece to participate in. I’m so privileged to be able to play it. And I'm just so excited to be able to share that with all the people in South Africa.
WHRB: And lastly, a fun question: If you had to choose another instrument, which would you choose, and why?
Thomas: I think I would probably say cello. I guess it's for similar reasons that I chose the oboe, but one of them is just the fact that I feel it's so human. It often plays pieces of music that a singer would sing. It's just such a flexible instrument that can play so high and so low, and have such different tones. And the range of repertoire—with the exception of the piano, I feel like the cello really has a huge amount of pieces it can play.
// Hillary Jean-Gilles '25 is a producer and staff writer for the Classical Music Department.