Melissa Angulo sings "The Girl in 14G" at Hertz Hall. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

On Friday July 29, Melissa Angulo, 17, stepped onto the stage of Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, followed by James Meredith, her piano accompanist. She turned toward the audience, and, without any prelude, launched into a performance of “C” an operatic song by Francis Poulenc and Louis Aragon.

The dozens of people in the audience sat transfixed as Angulo’s soprano filled the music hall, her voice pushing notes higher and higher. She then changed rhythms completely, and sang “The Girl from 14G,” an upbeat song written by Jeanine Tesori for the actress and singer Kristin Chenowith.

Angulo is a member of the Young Musicians’ Program, an honors outreach program run by UC Berkeley. Each year, about 85 talented, low-income students aged 9 to 18, from four Bay Area counties, become members of YMP and get musical training, academic reinforcement and personal guidance, along with a world-class education in the musical field of their choice, including voice and orchestra, classical music, jazz, and folk music.

Each summer the students attend a seven-week, all-day session at Cal. They learn music theory, ear training, piano, and chamber music and perform in a large and small ensembles. In addition to local musicians who act as teachers, world-class artists conduct master classes. In recent years, performers such as the concert pianist Andre Watts and the mezzo-soprano Fredericka von Stade have joined YMP.

During August, the musicians from the Young Musicians’ Program will play a series of free concerts at Hertz Hall. It’s one of Berkeley’s best-kept secrets, and one that should not be missed. All events are free and open to the public.

On Sunday August 7th at 3 pm, the group will present “Vocal Showcase: A Poet’s Voice.” Students will perform works inspired by great poetry from authors as varied as Shakespeare, Goethe, and Emily Dickinson. The Othello String Quartet will present the world premiere of a work composed by Therese Chaix, who is 17.

On Wednesday, August 10th, at 7:30 pm, there will be an ensemble concert featuring the YMP big band string orchestra and symphonic winds.

On Friday August 12th at 7:30 pm, the choral youth orchestra, along with conductor Ruben Capriles, will perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and selections from “The Pearl Fishers” and “West Side Story.”

On Sunday August 14th at 3 pm, the YMP will perform Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2, featuring Angolo.

The Young Musicians’ Program was started in 1968 with 20 students and three volunteer teachers and has grown into one of the leading musical programs in the nation. All of the students are exceptionally gifted, and all attend for free. Daisy Newman is the director.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...