"It's kind of one-of-a-kind in this area because it's not a full symphony," Ashton said, though the group does bring in woodwind players sometimes when repertoire calls for it.
The string ensemble's hundreds of alumni include Utah Symphony associate principal cellist Matthew Johnson, Utah Symphony violinist Becca Moench, jazz bassist Matt Larson, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson of Piano Guys fame, cellist Matt Zalkind of the University of Denver music faculty, pianist-composer Marshall McDonald and film-score composer Chad Cannon.
YACP plays a wide range of repertoire, including new music written for the group. "They've learned to like 20th-century music instead of enduring it," Ashton noted. Members of the Westminster College faculty, such as pianist Karlyn Bond and Utah Symphony violinist Yuki MacQueen, occasionally appear as soloists.
The group also travels to Europe regularly. This summer, members of YACP and a few alumni, performing as Rocky Mountain Camerata, will play in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Salzburg, Paris and other cities. (The group has set up a crowd-funding page at gofundme.com/q5tur3rh for those interested in helping defray expenses.)
Bassist Justin Morgan played in YACP all three years of high school. "It was an amazing experience," said Morgan, now a bass performance major at the University of Utah. "The level of playing in the group was the highest I had ever been exposed to."
Morgan has plenty of basis for comparison — he played in 11 orchestras during his senior year at Taylorsville High. "Everyone there is extremely committed to what they're doing," he said of YACP. "My eyes were opened to how challenging but also how interesting and how detailed chamber music could be."
That isn't to say that beginning violinists should be afraid to audition. The YACP organization includes three other orchestras for younger and less-experienced players. "The organization caters to every level of musician," Morgan said. "Their mission is to take musicians at any level and raise the bar but also make the students very passionate."
Becky Hesterman, board secretary, got involved with the organization when her now-grown children were members. "I figured I'd stay with Jack until he retired, thinking it would be a couple more years," she said. "That was 10 years ago, and he still is going strong. …
"Jack is more than a teacher, he's a mentor. Jack is just a gem."