Sunday, May 14, 2017

PYP and cellist Zhang shine in season finale

Photo by Brian Clark
The Portland Youth Philharmonic concluded its 93rd season with a concert that more than demonstrated the orchestra’s continuing high level of achievement. The colorful and meaty program featured Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, a symphony by Antonín Dvořák, and the world premiere of an electro-acoustic piece by American composer Debra Kaye. Each selection was performed outstandingly with incisive commitment by the orchestra under the baton of its music director David Hattner.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto put the spotlight on Annie Zhang, who won the orchestra’s annual concerto contest. Although only a high school freshman, Zhang showed stellar technique and artistic talent that made music sing from her cello. She fearlessly dug into the very exposed opening statement, quickly establishing the melancholic and soulful mood of piece. Whether plunging into the lowest register of her instrument or the highest, she held nothing back throughout each of the four movments. Her passionate playing, wonderfully accompanied by her orchestral colleagues, gave Elgar’s music depth and an immediacy that resonated throughout the hall.

The orchestra gave a scintillating performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, excelling with dynamic phrasing yet never losing sight of the music’s Slavic nature. Particularly rich and strong were the melodic passages delivered by the cello section, which had 16 members. Exchanges by woodwinds and brass went smoothly and the trumpet fanfare in the fourth movement was executed exceptionally well. The violins played impeccably, including some solos by concertmaster Fumika Mizuno. Several principals played their solo passages and duets very well, and the entire ensemble put a polished and glorious stamp on the finale.

The concert began “Ikarus Among the Stars,” a new work by American composer Debra Kaye in honor of Benjamin Klatchko, a PYP violist whose life was cut short at the age of 17. Inspired by the music and life of Klatchko , Kaye, who teaches at the Mannes School of Music, created a one-movement piece that blended recorded segments of Klatcho’s techno-pop music into the orchestral fabric.

The piece began with a somber viola solo that transitioned to a lighter segment involving the entire orchestra. The brass, woodwind, and string sections exchanged the leading line deftly and all was merged with electronic music that had a pronounced rhythmic drive. The combo seemed to launch the orchestra into a more energetic gear, which was then interrupted by another recording, this time with vocals. Two more exchanges between the orchestra and recorded passages seemed suggest that one inspired the other until it all ended at a higher, grander elevation –alluding to the ancient legend of Ikarus.

It seemed like the graduating class of musicians – marked by wearing a rose boutonniere – was very large. It looked as if almost all of the woodwinds will be leaving. Fortunately, the PYP organization will have a new crop of talented young musicians rising through its ranks. With Hattner in charge, the orchestra is in excellent hands going forward.

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