Wednesday, November 4, 2015

David Hattner talks about Portland Youth Philharmonic's 92nd season

Photo by Joe Cantrell

The Portland Youth Philharmonic will open its 92nd season with its annual Fall Concert on Saturday, November 14th, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. David Hattner returns to the podium for his eighth year as the orchestra’s music director, and he will also conduct the performances of the Camerata PYP, select, small ensembles that, like the orchestra, tackle a variety of challenging pieces.

What’s the big new thing about the orchestra this year?

Hattner: The string section is larger this year. Overall, we have 118 musicians in the orchestra this year. That’s an increase over the 105 that we had last year. 

That’s a lot of people to fit on the stage of the Schnitz! And you are kicking off your first concert with a piece for orchestra and electronica called “Warehouse Medicine” from “The B-Sides” by Mason Bates. Has the PYP worked with electronic music before?

Hattner: Many years ago, the orchestra did experimental pieces with analog tape by Vladimir Ussachevsky. He was one of the early exponents of mixing live orchestra with electronically manipulated sounds.

Bates wrote the piece that we will play about ten years ago for the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas. Bates originally did the electronic part live, but now that part is played by one of our cellists using precisely times keystrokes on a laptop.  We are doing just the one movement, “Warehouse Medicine,” from the piece, and it is similar to what you would hear in a techno-club: loud, rhythmic, boomy, and electronic-sounding.  With the other movements, there is more contrast.  The piece is so well crafted. I am determined to program the entire work in the future. 

The concert program will also feature Nathan Kim, who won the orchestra’s piano concerto competition, performing Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto.

Hattner: The Prokofiev is an excellent showcase for Nathan, who has already performed as soloist with other local orchestras.  The music is compact and challenging. It’s a through-composed piece although there are three distinct movements. Prokofiev wrote before he even graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He then played it for his graduation jury which did not endear him to the piano faculty, although they ended up awarding him a big prize including a grand piano. It has turned out to be a very popular concerto and a lot of pianists keep it in their repertoire. 

Another “first” on the program is Sibelius’s First Symphony, which is not done all that often.
Hattner: I was surprised that the PYP had not performed it before. It’s a standard work and also a standard for youth orchestras. But what is more surprising and shocking is that the orchestra hasn’t played a Sibelius symphony in over twenty years. The gap in performing Sibelius is understandable to a degree because has his symphonies matured, his orchestrations got smaller. He stopped writing for the tuba after the 2nd Symphony and this is his only symphony with percussion beyond timpani . So it becomes harder and harder for the PYP to do them, because I have to consider programming pieces that will keep everyone involved. Sibelius’s first symphony also has a wonderful harp part, an instrument he used rather sparingly later. It’s a beautiful, well-constructed piece., which we will play for thet 150th anniversary of his birth. 

For the orchestra’s annual concert at Christmas on December 26th at the Schnitz, the orchestra will play the Overture to Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers” and Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome”

Hattner: This is my first Rossini overture to conduct with PYP. Rossini’s music is brilliant but it is difficult to play well. It will be an excellent challenge to get our large orchestra to play it crisply. 

Respighi was a great orchestrator. He’s considered a direct descent of the Rimsky-Korsakov school of orchestration. He is underrated as a composer. His music is well-crafted and very influential. He always has a lot going on in his works, and it all sounds so glorious. This was the first in his famous trilogy of works on Roman themes, and it’s the least performed, perhaps because of its soft

On January 31st, the Camerata PYP will perform at Lincoln Hall in a concert that includes a world premiere of a piece by Tomas Svoboda. 

Hattner: Yes, you can hear the Camerata PYP play an unusual program that will be done in less than an hour.  The concert will be done in collaboration with the faculty members of Chamber Music Northwest who will be coaching these pieces, which includes works by Piston, Riegger, Griffes, and Svoboda.

I found Svoboda’s “Folk Concertino for Seven Instruments “ on his web site, and it had not been published. The orchestration fit within some of the other works on the program. A set of parts were made for us: piccolo, oboe, clarinet, two violins, viola, and bass. It’s great that we are doing the world premiere where he taught in the music department of Portland State University.

Walter Piston’s “Divertimento for Nine Instruments” involves four winds and five strings. It’s a neo-classical work influenced by Stravinsky. Charles Tomlinson Griffes was a New England composer who was influenced by French Impressionism. His “Three Tone Pictures” have a soft and gentle dynamic that will contrast well with the other works on the program.

Wallingford Riegger is an American whose “Study in Sonority” was scored for ten violins. It’s a piece that I’ve been obsessing over for a long time. It’s a unique piece that is virtually unknown. It was written in 1927 and was premiered by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is a fine composition with themes which are developed and played in counterpoint.  It has some ugly and horrifying sounds that certainly influenced later Hollywood composers who worked on horror films.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Bernard Herrmann knew this piece and borrowed some of its high, weird screechy tones and dissonances to manipulate audiences into feeling frightened or repulsed. We have some excellent musicians who can tear into this piece like you wouldn’t believe. 

The Winter Concert on March 5th will feature Marion Bauer’s “Sun Splendor.” Who is Marion Bauer?

Hattner: Marion Bauer was born in Walla Walla in 1882 and raised in Portland. She was a teacher in New York City at New York University and Juilliard. She was an advocate for new music and wrote a number of pieces. Sun Splendor is a piano work the she orchestrated for Stokowski who conducted it with the New York Philharmonic and then fell into obscurity. I heard it somewhere and found out that she had lived in Portland. I found the score and the parts in a library, which allowed us to use it. It’s only four minutes, but it is very well orchestrated. 

Our Winter Concert will also feature the winner of our concerto competition, Anna Larson, who will play the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto. We will conclude the concert with Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony.  It is one of his late, great works that is underplayed and neglected. It’s in three movements with an especially fascinating 2nd movement, which is both a slow movement and a scherzo. 

On April 24th, the Camerata PYP will return to the friendly confines of Wieden+Kennedy in the Pearl District.

Hattner: This concert is mostly an American program for strings, but we will do the “Spring” movement from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” in an attempt to lure more people who may be unfamiliar with the music of Henry Cowell, Kenji Bunch and James Stephenson. We will do Bunch’s “Nocturne for String Orchestra” and Stephenson’s “Printemps” along with Cowell’s “Hymn and Fuguing tune #2.”

Then you’ll wrap up the season with PYP’s annual Spring Concert at the Schnitz on May 1st.

Hattner: We will perform Anatol Liadov’s “Eight Russian Folk Songs.” They are intricate and beautiful miniatures.  As a side note, Liadov was the composer who turned down Sergei Diaghilev for a ballet and was replaced by Stravinsky who then wrote “The Firebird.” 

The orchestra will also perform Zoltán Kodály’s “Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song ‘The Peacock.’” It was written at a difficult time for the composer. Kodály had been living in exile. “The Peacock” is a folk tune that goes back a thousand years. It’s a simple tune about freedom. Kodály, takes that simple tune and uses his considerable abilities as composer and orchestrator to transform it into a true masterpiece. It has an intense, emotional ending that is unforgettable.

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