Every year as I get older, the young people seem to get younger. That was especially true at the Vancouver Symphony concert on Saturday afternoon (April 13), which featured the gold medal winners of its annual young artists contest. This time around, one of the winners, Julin Cheung, was only eleven years old! That is the youngest winner ever that I am aware of.
Cheung won the wind competition and played Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto No. 2 (“La notte”) with as much verve, artistry, and technique as a seasoned flutist twice his age. His tone was beautiful and clear. He created trills that lingered exquisitely. He leaned into long notes and let the short ones flow smoothly. Combined with excellent breath control and tremendous poise, Cheung made the music a pleasure to hear and look a lot easier than it was – the sign of a fine artist indeed. The audience responded to an immediate standing ovation. Cheung is someone to keep an eye on…
Next on the program came Aaron Greene, a tall 17-year-old, who has been one of the co-concertmasters of the Portland Youth Philharmonic for the past two years. Greene delivered an outstanding performance of Ravel’s “Tzigane.” His opening cadenza showed flashes of inspiration that conveyed the gypsy-imbued spirit of the piece. He excelled with double-stops and the pizzicato passages and supplied a bit of fire to finish off the emotive phrases. Supported by sensitive playing by the harp and the orchestra, Greene created a fine freewheeling swirl of sound through the rest of the piece with only a brief problem with a tricky pizzicato phrase.
Jenna Tu, a 16-year-old pianist, gave a lovely interpretation of the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. She played with terrific confidence and artistry, creating a deep, rich sound in the opening segment. All of the wonderful melodies that surge forward and ebb to the back sparkled in the hands of Tu. Her pacing was excellent, including the build up to the final theme. It was fun to follow her fingers on the big screens above the stage and watch her elegant technique. Like Greene and Cheung, Tu received thunderous applause from an enthusiastic audience. Music Director Salvador Brotons brought all three soloists out on stage for one final bow that everyone appreciated.
The second half of the program was devoted to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” one of the most popular of all symphonic works in the Romantic style. Brotons, conducting from memory, inspired an evocative performance from the orchestra. The brass established an angry sultan. Concertmaster Eva Richey spun the image of the story-telling wife, Scheherazade. The strings and woodwinds generated the ocean waves and all the forces contributed to the swashbuckling adventures in exotic lands. Excellent contributions abounded, especially from principal French Horn (Dan Partridge), clarinet (Igor Shakhman) , bassoon (Margaret McShea), trombone (Graham Middleton), flute (Rachel Rencher), harp (Matthew Tutsky), trumpet (Bruce Dunn) and oboe (Alan Juza) and the rock solid percussion section. The dynamics could have provided more contrast and there was occasional muddiness in the strings, but overall, the orchestra transported listeners to a realm of imagination that only vanished with the final waves of notes.