|David Hattner and the PYP in action|
This season marks David Hattner’s 6th year as music director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. So, it’s high time to find out what he and the orchestra have in store for this season.
How is the season shaping up? Did you have big turnover from last year?
Hattner: We had a strong year and a small graduation of players. We also have well qualified players coming up through the ranks of our system. This season we will have a larger ensemble. Last year we had 94 musicians. This year, we will start at 113.
Hattner: We need the large forces for Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. The season is built around that piece, and we will perform it in March. The Oregon Symphony performed it in 1985 with James DePreist, and that was probably the only time that that this work was ever played in Oregon. It will be a long time before it is played again, because of the mammoth forces required. It calls for 20 separate woodwind parts, eight horns, four trumpets, three trombones, two tubas, a big percussion section, and lots of strings. It’s a very big piece. It’s over an hour long and technically very challenging. Shostakovich wrote it in the mid-1930s, but it was not premiered until 1961.
Why was that?
Hattner: He got into a lot of trouble with the Soviet authorities over an opera that he wrote, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.” The Symphony was a defiant statement about the state of affairs in the USSR, and he thought that with symphonic music he could get around the authorities. But his opera had been officially denounced, and he realized that he had no real artistic freedom to make such statements in his orchestral music. So he hid his Fourth Symphony until it was safe to bring it out. It has been played widely since 1961, but it is still an unusual event because of the costs of hiring the extra musicians that are needed.
What is the piece like?
Hattner: It has three movements, but the outer movements are over 25 minutes in length while the middle movement is around seven minutes. The music is episodic and contrapuntal. It is whisper soft at times and brutally loud at others. The orchestra is used in unique and impressive ways. For example, there are long segments where only part or parts of the orchestra will play. There are many unusual and disturbing sounds and motives, all utilized with power and genius. It is one of the most remarkable pieces Shostakovich wrote.
Have you played it before?
Hattner: I played it once in college and once as a professional with the Toledo Symphony back in the 90s under Maxim Shostakovich. It’s a great piece for a student orchestra if the players are up to it. Fortunately, PYP is a superb orchestra. They will respond to the challenge with a lot of hard work. This performance will be memorable for both the audience and the players. For Oregonians who love orchestral music, this is an event to attend!
Where do you get the scores?
Hattner: We will borrow them from the Oregon Symphony.
What other works will the PYP play on the program with the Shostakovich?
Hattner: We will open the concert with a piece by Kevin Walczyk, who is an alumnus of PYP. It’s called Celebration Fanfare, which was written for Carlos Kalmar’s arrival as music director of the Oregon Symphony. Walczyk is on the music faculty at Western Oregon University. The concert will also feature the winner of our annual concerto competition, held in October.
Let’s go backwards and talk about the first concert of PYP’s season. That one is coming up on November 9th.
Hattner: Opening night will start with Kenji Bunch’s Supermaximum. We performed the original string orchestra version last spring and you can see it on YouTube. He’s finishing a new version of this piece for full orchestra, and we will give the world premiere at this concert. Kenji is also an alumnus of the orchestra. In addition to his excellent composing, he is also an outstanding professional violist.
Also on the program is the Grieg Piano Concerto, which will feature Hannah Moon, winner of our piano competition. This concerto hasn’t been played by PYP in 40 seasons. I am very happy to have this beautiful concerto return. Besides being a terrific pianist, Hannah Moon is a member of the PYP viola section.
The orchestra will also perform Howard Hanson’s “Elegy,” which he wrote in memory of Serge Koussevitzky, who was a longtime music director of the Boston Symphony and the founder of Tanglewood. The concert will close with Dvorak’s “Symphonic Variations.” This unusual work consists of a theme with 27 variations and a fugal finale in just over 20 minutes. Dvorak almost makes a catalogue of his composing styles in this work. It is beautiful, exciting and satisfying to play and conduct.
It’s great that you’ve engaged Kenji Bunch so quickly, since he returned to Portland.
Hattner: Besides Supermaximum, Kenji is leading the PYP music theory program. I also hope to play some chamber music with him.
What do you have in store for you Concert at Christmas program?
Hattner: The Concert as Christmas has become a special event for PYP. The concert hall is always very full, and the stage is also very full, because so many PYP alumni return each year for the opener to this program. This year it will be the overture to Verdi’s opera “Nabucco.”
The concert also features our Young String Ensemble conducted by Carol Sindell, our Wind Ensemble, and our Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Larry Johnson. People can see and hear how PYP musicians progress at different stages in our program. Finally, the Philharmonic Orchestra closes the concert.
The theme of the Philharmonic portion of this concert is encores. The PYP will play the overture to “The Secret of Susanna” (“Il segreto di Susanna”) a little comic opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari. Incidentally, Susanna’s secret is that she smokes. [Laughs!] It’s a silly opera and the overture is a lighthearted romp. We will also perform the intermezzo from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut.” The larger piece on the program is the “Le Corsaire Overture” by Berlioz. We will have some surprises thrown in.
Finally, you have the Spring Concert in May.
Hattner: The main piece for that concert is Samuel Barber’s First Symphony, which he wrote when he was in his 20s. It’s an unusual work, one of the first symphonies in one movement. But it has four distinct sections like a regular symphony. It has three themes that run through the entire piece. It’s a passionate, powerful, romantic work that should be played more often. The PYP has never done it before. I’m sure that it will appeal to the audience immediately.
We will also play the “Academic Festival Overture” of Brahms. It’s a natural graduation piece, and fitting for those musicians who will be leaving the orchestra. Another piece on the program is Holst’s “Hammersmith,” a prelude and scherzo originally written in the version that we are playing for wind ensemble and percussion. This is a great opportunity to put our winds out front. The piece is about the Hammersmith district of London where Holst taught at the St. Paul School for Girls. He wrote “Hammersmith” for the BBC Military Band, but they never played it. It’s a favorite of American colleges, and it’s a wonderful piece that depicts the Thames River running through the district and all of its cockney inhabitants.
The concert will also feature short solo by another competition winner. We sponsor two solo competitions every year.
How are your Camerata concerts going at Weiden+Kennedy?
Hattner: They have really taken off! The setting is intimate and perfect for our chamber orchestra. We have a two concert series there. We are building the first program around Bach’s “Third Brandenburg Concerto,” which is for strings and harpsichord. Then we play two more contemporary works that reflect this music: Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” and “Muse” by Christopher Theofanidis. Stravinsky quotes Bach in his work. It’s got the spirit of Bach in it and is a wonderful piece. “Muse” was written just a few years ago for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Like the “Third Brandenburg,” it is written for strings and harpsichord. This should be a really fun program, and it gives the audience a chance to see the musicians up close. It will take place on January 26th.
At the second concert at Weiden+Kennedy, we will continue our Beethoven cycle with his Third Symphony, the “Eroica.” We have already performed the First and the Eighth symphonies in this series. The “Eroica” will be performed with 40 players, which sounds small but it will sound very large in the Wieden+Kennedy. The Symphony is 45 minutes long, far longer than any symphony previously written and an excellent challenge for the orchestra.
What have you seen in your six years of conducting?
I really love this being the Musical Director of PYP. The student musicians are fantastic. They really listen to each other, and do whatever it takes to make excellent music. They are a real team, encouraging each other and keeping an eye on each other. They study hard and do what it takes to give great concerts. We’ve kept the level high, and I’m really proud of all of the musicians in the orchestra. They have rather diverse lives and do a lot of fantastic things outside of the orchestra. They are remarkable individuals, and it’s a privilege to lead them.