A large crowd assembled at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday evening to hear the Portland Youth Philharmonic’s winter concert and to acknowledge the contributions of one of its former conductors, Jacob Avshalomov, who had become somewhat estranged from the orchestra since his retirement in 1995. The orchestra gave Avshalomov (who will turn 90 on March 28th) its lifetime achievement award and performed the world premiere of his “Season’s Greetings. The program also included works by Modest Mussorgsky, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Samuel Barber, whose Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was given an incredible performance by the PYP’s 15 year-old concertmaster Brandon Garbot.
The Portland Youth Philharmonic, founded in 1924, happens to be the oldest youth orchestra in the nation and has always maintained a high level of playing. Under its new conductor, David Hattner, the orchestra showed its sensitive side with its handling of Mussorgsky’s Prelude to “Khovantchina,” which evokes the dawn rising over Moscow.
Garbot excelled in every moment of in the Barber Violin Concerto. In particular, his lyricism in the first movement soared and the exacting, fast, pace of the third movement was like butter in his hands. He played with impeccable tone throughout. It was a breathtaking performance and truly memorable. The orchestra, for its part, supported his playing extremely well.
Avshalomov’s “Season’s Greetings” seemed to be a pastiche of different ideas that were inspired by the poetry of his wife, Doris. Over five movements, dissonant and harmonic sounds careened throughout the orchestra. The references to Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” added a dash of warmth, and piece concluded charmingly with a wink rather than a grandiose chords.
The concert ended with a Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which the orchestra played with passion. I loved the enthusiasm of the musicians, especially in the strings, who clearly enjoyed digging into this masterpiece. The brass and wind sections had many fine moments. Hattner encouraged his orchestra effectively, and together, they demonstrated a commitment to the music that would’ve made Tchaikovsky proud.
One of the appealing things about a PYP concert is the program booklet, because the program notes are written by the musicians. The booklet also contains advertisements from universities, conservatories, and music summer camps. It’s wonderful to see that these schools offer a future for young musicians in Portland.