Youth Music Monterey, 11-12-17

By Scott MacClelland

THREE TIMES EACH CONCERT SEASON Youth Music Monterey County’s orchestras—Junior Youth and Honors—fill Sunset Center to capacity with audiences ravenous to hear young musicians conducted by their acclaimed music director Farkhad Khudyev. How can it be that a youth orchestra—the one continually evolving into the other—attracts such an enthusiastic following?

Some of the explanation must descend from YMMC having survived some serious, even life-threatening challenges, both internal and external, in its now distant past. Under the steady-handed leadership of board chair Dorothy Micheletti, the independent non-profit organization, founded in the early 1990s by the late visionary Ruth Fenton, itself evolved from a predecessor called Youth Orchestra of the Monterey Peninsula, founded in the early ‘80s, whose original music director was Stewart Robertson, a Scot who in the intervening years made for himself a major international career.

Each new YMMC success is very consciously built on what came before. So when Khudyev lifted his baton last Sunday afternoon, the audience, whether or not aware of that history, was already prepared by the orgaNicholas-Brady_edited-2nization’s reputation for excellence.

But that was not all. The concert also featured Nicholas Brady, a locally-raised child prodigy, now eight years of age, who began his public career four years ago, including appearances with Khudyev and YMMC. For this concert, Master Brady performed the three-movement violin concerto in C by Dmitri Kabalevsky, a blustering 20-minute display piece that featured a flamboyant solo cadenza in its last movement. Dialed-in to the considerable demands of the piece, the boy paid little attention to the audience, but at crucial points made eye contact with the conductor. (Brady is now a student at Temple University.)

The 2016-17 season of YMMC’s orchestras set a high-water market. The virtually professional Honors Orchestra delivered performances that made its audiences giddy with love for orchestral music. Yet its ranks were decimated* by the graduation of so many strong players in both ensembles, with an elite cadre of seniors now gone on to university and conservatory studies. As a result, the opening of this new season was, for Khudyev, something of a step back and a restart. (One key loss was that of the Honors Orchestra’s oboe player, with no replacement on the horizon. In the situation, YMMC alumna Monica Mendoza, an exceptionally musical and animated flutist, who moved through both orchestras, volunteered to learn oboe and suddenly appeared as the Honors Orchestra principal. Now 20, she is a student at Hartnell College.)

The orchestras in this concert were, relatively, a bit scratchy as new members joined the Junior Youth and some of its members faced tough new challenges in having moved up to the Honors Orchestra. The JY group proceeded through a short program that grew tougher as it unfolded, from Lev Knipper’s Meadowlands, a polka by Kabalevsky, the harder-still Dance of the Rose Maidens from Khachaturian’s Gayane ballet, and a huge leap up to the final movement from Sibelius’ Second Symphony. In case they had any doubts, these youngsters now know what’s ahead of them.

Young Brady’s performance of the concerto brought the audience to its feet, as came as a surprise to no one. Then followed the Honors Orchestra’s first performance of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, a favorite of Khudyev. (I say ‘first performance’ because many members will join the Monterey Symphony and Max Bragado Darman next weekend for their two performances of the same work.)

As the irresistible score opened, with its “cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside,” the first solo emerged from—you guessed it—the oboe, an instrument notoriously difficult to conquer. And there was Mendoza, exposed and non-hesitant, with barely six months to gain mastery. Like Bragado, Khudyev understands the art of conducting and the interpretive demands that go with it. So he pushed and pulled his young orchestra even at the risk of taking them out on a limb. They soon found that arriving in the countryside is no walk in the park.

Yet on balance, they rose to the challenge and probably discovered skills they might not previously have known they had. In the long first and second movements Khudyev demanded they flex and extend the tempi elastically according to his vision, as any professional would expect to do. This effect is even more pronounced in the last three movements, which are played without pauses, the third and fifth framing the big thunderstorm scene.

At the end of the day, the sun came out in all its glory with the audience buzzing like a swarm of happy bees.

*reduced by ten percent

Always.., Patsy Cline


By Philip Pearce

A VISIT TO JEWEL THEATRE COMPANY’S Always.., Patsy Cline is a lot of fun, but if you’re headed for the Colligan in Santa Cruz to see it you need to know in advance what you’re in for. It’s not, like the recent Carole King musical Beautiful, an exploration of the slings and arrows of fame and fortune in the cut-throat world of pop music. By evening’s end, all you’ve discovered, if you didn’t already know it, is that Patsy Cline was an inspired vocal innovator who made the transition from Grand Ole Opry hee-haw to top-of-the-charts pop fame. And that she became friendsc a few years before dying in a plane crash, with an affable, outgoing Texas matron named Louise Seger.

The story, such as it is, covers a night when Louise, an avid fan, arrived early for a Cline concert, and met, helped and opened her Houston home to her idol. After which they wrote to each other.

Most of this is told direct to the audience by Louise, who calls it the high point of her life (“Take me now, Lord”) but Texan Ted Swindley’s script never asks how it changed her or affected Patsy. Brief provocative wisps of Cline biography keep drifting past and become the flimsy structure on which the show strings 27 terrific musical numbers. Louise mentions, almost in passing, that Patsy was having marital problems at the time, but all that happens as a result is that Patsy sings a torchy number called “She’s Got You.” Louise discovers that while Patsy is touring she misses her children, but who they are and how she relates to them are never revealed. Patsy just sings, “If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child).” Even when Patsy dies in a plane crash, Louise simply reports the fact and mentions the Grand Ole Opry television tribute. It’s as if Swindley didn’t want this piece of real life drama to step on the pervading high-spirited feel-good atmosphere. It’s easy to think of Always…Patsy Cline as a musical, but almost impossible to think of it as a play.

All that said, Jewel has equipped it with the scenic stagecraft and high production values that have helped earn the company one of only twelve National Theatre Company grants awarded this year. A six-man combo headed by Ben Dorfan is sensationally on-target with their country-western music and the lead roles are played by two of the most gifted actresses in the Monterey Bay region.

Actually, Diana Torres Koss does most of the acting in the role of Louise. With a bouncy assurance that had the opening night crowd cheering, she strode around the stage, darted up and down the aisles in her boots and cowboy hat, “worked” the audience with countrified jokes and even scooped up a startled front-row moppet and stomped him off into a dance number.

In the title role, Julie James was a revelation to me. I knew her powers as an actress but I’d never before experienced her brilliance as a singer. More than just a vocalist, she uses standards like “Crazy,” “Your Cheating Heart” and “You Belong to Me” to produce a telling and wonderful imitation of the melodic scoops and heart-beats and yodels of Patsy Cline.

She and Torres Koss work together like a veteran show-biz team. It’s sad they couldn’t use all that talent to reveal the real ups and downs of Patsy and Louise, which are suggested more provocatively in Shaun Carroll’s director’s notes than in any of the words of the existing script.

The show plays weekends at the Colligan through December 3rd.

Photo by Steve DiBatolomeo