Sunday, November 23, 2008

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra accents young violinist and operatic flair

Young prodigy Brandon Garbot tackled Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy” and came out on top at his debut concert with the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening. By slowing the tempo a bit, Garbot carefully negotiated all of the tricky passages and maintained an impeccably pure tone throughout the piece.

It was quite an achievement for the 15-year-old high school student who serves as the concertmaster of the Portland Youth Philharmonic and has won several competitions. His performance with the Columbia Symphony was successful, in part, because the orchestra’s music director, Huw Edwards, made sure that both the tempo and orchestra’s volume stayed in check. Since he has been the music director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic and the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, Edwards communicates well with young artists and shows a keen understanding of their talent.

In his performance of the “Carmen Fantasy,” I loved the way Garbot glided smoothly from one high note to the next. He created a sound that was somewhat similar to whistling and once in a while it took on a slightly eerie effect. The audience rewarded him with sustained applause that turned into a standing ovation.

Garbot was also the featured soloist in the “Méditation” from Massenet’s opera “Thaïs.” Using a rich and secure tone, Garbot found the soothing quality that makes this piece so beloved. He teamed up well with the orchestra to make this piece memorable.

The concert included several selections from other operas. The orchestra opened the concert with the overture to the “Die Fledermaus,” by Johann Strauss Jr., the overture to “The Magic Flute” by Mozart, and the prelude to “The Mastersingers of Nurenberg,” by Wagner. The orchestra played each piece well, but some slippage in the violins – usually in the fastest passages – impacted the artistry somewhat. Principal oboist Brad Hochhalter delivered some evocative passages, especially in “Die Fledermaus.”

The second work on the program was Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” which he wrote for string orchestra. Nine members of the orchestra arranged themselves in front of the rest of the main body of the orchestra, and in doing so, created a separate ensemble. At one point the principals also formed an ensemble “voice,” so that three ensembles from the orchestra created the effect of three choirs in a church. On the whole, the orchestra showed a lot of sensitivity to this work and made it one of the highlights of the evening.

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