YMMC’s “Mother’s Musical Souvenir”

By Scott MacClelland

MANY A MONTEREY BAY music presenter serves up a program handout and a concert performance. Youth Music Monterey County puts on a pageant. Hard as it may be to imagine today, concerts like that were the norm in Beethoven’s time: highly varied and often more sensational.

YMM’s “Mother’s Musical Souvenir” at Sunset Center, filled the hall for YMM’s Junior Youth and Honors Orchestras, including chamber ensembles, guest artists, concerto competition winners and ceremonial honors. An extravagant celebration ensued that astonished the parents of the young musicians of the Junior Youth Orchestra and 21 members of the even less experienced Orchestra in the Schools during the first half. By the end of the Honors Orchestra portion, the entire audience was equally astonished. Don’t misunderstand me, but for all the music on display, there was an element of showbiz as well.

Some of the good credit for that goes to YMM’s talented and stylish music director Farkhad Khudyev, a native of Turkmenistan, born into a musical family. His brothers, violinist Eldar and clarinetist Emil, are both highly accomplished musicians. (Emil was a featured soloist with the Monterey Symphony when Farkhad was its guest conductor in early 2016.) The family’s charm offensive is also well known; they never forget a friendly response. Farkhad took third prize at the 2017 Georg Solti International Conducting Competition and was among the final 12 at the Nikolai Malko Competition in Copenhagen last month.

YMM’s brass ensemble of two trumpets, trombone and euphonium opened the show with two pieces: a canzon by early 17th century composer Costanzo Antegnati and—now with cool shades in place to everyone’s amusement—Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf. Then 21 members of the Orchestra in the Schools joined the Junior Youth Orchestra for an energetic Barber of Seville Overture. The JYO’s concertmaster, Courtney McDonald, an eighth-grader at Monterey’s San Carlos School, stepped up as soloist for the final movement of a Vivaldi concerto, an opportunity she won through in-house competition. Tall for her age and slim in a full-length red gown, she made quite an impression on both eye and ear.

More chamber music as six members of YMM’s wind ensemble performed an arrangement of the final movement of Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet, followed by the orchestra playing Grand Valse Brillante by Chopin, two charming bits of Leroy Anderson, the second punctuated with some vocalizing by the musicians, and a tango by one Robert B Brown.

This entire first half required numerous stage rearrangements, as it would for the second half, all done with tidy efficiency by a team of volunteers. (Peter Thorp, of the Carmel Music Society, happily took a bow as he came on stage to remove a microphone stand.)

Hernandez 1_editedThe Honors Orchestra also opened its program on a small scale. Talented guest flutist Olive de Luca, a Carmel High student, joined three members of YMM’s string chamber players for the theme and variations finale of a flute quartet by Mozart.

Then the orchestra, now beefed up with a large wind and brass contingent and plenty of strings, carried the rest of the day, starting with Carl Maria von Weber’s virtuosic Concertino in E-flat for clarinet, featuring another competition winner, Daniel Hernandez (pictured above), a student at Everett Alvarez High School in North Salinas. Khudyev’s orchestra sounded meaty and bold as it, like Hernandez, traversed its own formidable challenges. This is a single-movement work, composed over three days in 1811, in theme with variations form and a ten-minute performance time. It changes moods putting extra pressure on the soloist and Hernandez commanded it, all from memory. One very intimate solo passage was accompanied softly by violas only. The young artist aroused a tumultuous audience response.

With no letdown, the orchestra then gave a knockout reading of Samuel Barber’s brilliant School for Scandal Overture, his graduation thesis from the Curtis Institute. Oboist Cayden Bloomer, a Pacific Grove Middle School student, played the haunting solo of the middle section beautifully, though his reed betrayed him in a later iteration. (Treacherous instrument, the oboe.)

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, YMMC is now marking milestones. The Honors Orchestra and Khudyev gave the US premiere five years ago of Georgy Sviridov’s melancholy “Romance” from Snowstorm, a film inspired by the Pushkin novel. Reprised on this program, the piece began quietly, with piano (played here by orchestra flutist Jasmine Mitchell, a Monterey High student), violin solo by concertmaster Megan Tang, of York School, then cello, Isadora Flores of Monterey High, and the winds. Slowly more sections were added until the full orchestra was engaged.

The concert ended with a powerful, passionate reading of the polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin, another Pushkin-inspired masterpiece. A cheering ovation punctuated the day.

YMMC has become as international in its student membership as Monterey’s famous Defense Language School and Middlebury School of International Studies. Names from all over Asia, Europe and the Americas are listed in their program booklets. On this occasion, Monterey native Mariam Adam, was honored, in absentia, as Alumna of the Year, a member of YMM’s first concerts in 1989. Adam has gone onto an international career as a virtuoso clarinet performing and recording artist. (She now lives in Paris and will be the subject of an upcoming Performing Arts People profile on Performing Arts Monterey Bay’s website.) To underscore the impact on the lives of YMMC students, recent graduates who have won full university scholarships include flutist Monica Mendoza—University of the Pacific, Stockton—and cellist Kim Kistler—University of British Columbia, Vancouver.