Farkhad Khudyev’s YMM finale

By Monica Mendoza and Scott MacClelland

JUNIOR YOUTH ORCHESTRA

FOR YMM’S Junior Youth Orchestra, Farkhad Khudyev has always taken care to choose music that is fun to play but also a challenge for the young musicians. On this program, titled “Love Side Stories,” the group performed a light but effective arrangement of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (final rehearsal pictured above) and works by JS Bach, Berlioz and Bernstein. Though they played shortened arrangements the young musicians performed with grace and attention to their conductor, and produced a quite mature sound. The only criticism regarding the arrangements themselves is that the Berlioz “March to the Scaffold” from Symphonie Fantastique was missing a key moment from the original. The movement is about the execution of a man who murdered his lover—a rather heavy subject for Mother’s Day. Toward the end of the piece, the haunting love theme from previous movements returns as a delicate clarinet solo, which is then cut off by a vicious orchestral guillotine stroke. Unfortunately this climactic moment was too understated, but the “March” itself was powerful and played with gusto.

This year, JYO had two young competition winners, Emily Kim and Elise Yoona Yi. The duo performed the opening movement of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor. The young ladies, attired respectively in blue and red party dresses, exhibited good chemistry with each other and effectively communicated to keep the complex musical lines in clarity and focus.

Two chamber groups performed during this first half of the program: the brass ensemble and the woodwind ensemble. These YMM chamber ensembles perform many concerts independent of the orchestra, and are well-established in the area. The brass ensemble opened the concert with their rich blended sound in two contrasting pieces from the baroque (Giovanni Gabrieli) and modern (Alan Hovhaness) eras demonstrating their musical versatility. The woodwind group played the opening movement of Beethoven’s Octet in E-flat Major, a charming piece scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns. Curiously, there were nine players in the ensemble but only seven music stands. (Changing chairs and music stands between pieces must have been a logistical headache.) The JYO portion of the program concluded most impressively with a medley of familiar tunes from West Side Story.

As a former YMM student myself, this concert didn’t feel like a goodbye. Rather it was a concert like the others, beautifully played and enthusiastically conducted. YMM was one of the biggest things in my life in high school, and Maestro Khudyev was always encouraging to me, even when I didn’t play my best. Before I believed I could study music in college he did, and for that I cannot express enough gratitude. He sees potential in all his students and that is one of the best things a youth orchestra conductor can do. MM

HONORS ORCHESTRA

CHOOSING PROGRAMS for the ‘feeding’ Junior Youth and the ‘receiving’ Honors Orchestras has always been tricky since the available capabilities change from year to year, and, indeed, within a year as student musicians gain greater skill. Khudyev has aimed and hit high in many of his Honors Orchestra programs, with a startling parade of regional premieres of major orchestral repertoire in their composers’ original versions and an exotic pageant of guest artists from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

The performance by the Honors Orchestra musicians, following the intermission, did not shirk from challenges. Chamber Music Director Erica Horn fashioned an arrangement of the first movement from Schubert’s late, great String Quintet in C, D 956, adding a third violin to the original five players. She made no cuts resulting in a full 13-minute reading. While there were a few scratchy moments the musicians all displayed a clear grasp of the magnitude of the piece. More coaching would probably have produced a more unified expression overall, but under the circumstances that’s a minor quibble. These six young string players have plenty to be proud of.

Khudyev returned to the stage to join board president Dorothy Micheletti in announcing end-of-year awards to graduating seniors Daniel Regalado (horn), Adam Shapiro (trumpet), Kelly Wong (viola) and Amadeus Soria (bassoon). Volunteer of the Year award went to Peter Thorp, Carmel Music Society board chair, who has served YMM faithfully as stage manager. There were enough flowers, then and at the concert’s conclusion, to satisfy a wedding and even a wake, which, in the latter case, undoubtedly weighed on the hearts of Khudyev’s loyal fans.

Then, on the podium, Khudyev reprised a piece he had played at the start of his YMM tenure, the intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s opera Cavalleria Rusticana, a sentimental tear-jerker that made the bittersweet moment even more pointed.

Finally, and with great swagger and no little podium choreography, he took the orchestra through a vivacious symphonic suite drawn from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, one last visit to Love on this most memorable Mother’s Day afternoon.     

How Khudyev has turned the student musicians of Youth Music Monterey into a popular concert juggernaut that has regularly filled the Sunset Center auditorium with SRO audiences is both a tribute to his vision and charisma. Virtually all area classical presenters have long since signed on, from the Monterey Symphony—highly represented in Sunday’s audience—to Youth Orchestra Salinas and the beginning-level Orchestra in the Schools, with the Carmel Music Society and Hidden Valley Music Seminars in between. Motivated students from all area middle and high schools, both public and private, fill YMM’s ranks. A search for Khudyev’s replacement is already underway with contacts being made at major music schools and conservatories. With luck, a candidate will be found who can fill his shoes. SM 

 

I Cantori in Pacific Grove

By Scott MacClelland

CONDUCTOR CYRIL DEACONOFF has certainly put I Cantori di Carmel chorus through some challenging paces since he came on board in the middle of 2018. For their Christmas concert, he threw them a surprise with a work of his own that in spite of early jitters turned out to be a surprising success. On Saturday at Pacific Grove’s “Butterfly” church, he introduced an enchanting choral cycle, A Pushkin Garland, by Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998), a major figure in late 20th century Russian music. It set to music ten poems by Alexander Pushkin (pictured), a nobleman who became Russia’s great romantic poet, whose maternal great-grandfather was African-born General Abram Petrovich Gannibal, and who died at age 37 following a duel. (Pushkin wrote the epic fairy tale Ruslan and Ludmila, the play Boris Godunov and the novel Yevgeniy Onegin, the first and last in verse form. All three would become famous operas by, respectively, Glinka, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky.)

Deaconoff took pains to point out the “folk tradition, nature and peasant life” in Pushkin’s verses and Sviridov’s music. Indeed, the music, lasting 37 minutes, seemed to take much less time owing to its charm, its contrasts of choral and solo writing, its use of space—in a poem titled “The Echo” a small chorus of two each sopranos, altos and tenors performed from the back of the church—and the variety of vocal and instrumental effects that drew their energy from minimal resources. In another song, “Reveille,” offstage soprano and alto conjured up the sound of crowing roosters. “A Grecian Feast” used orchestra bells, cymbal and harp, while “Camphor and Musk” availed the cymbal, piano and bass drum.

The poems were sung in Russian with English translation in the program handout and confirmed the character described in Deaconoff’s notes and remarks. In the playful “Camphor and Musk,” the poet complains that beautiful Leila has left him, to which she retorts “Your hair is all gray.” The poet responds, “Everything has its season. That which was once dark musk has now become sweet camphor.” Leila laughs, “Don’t you know, musk is sweet to newlyweds while camphor belongs to tombs?!” That was only one of several ‘love songs.’ In “Mary” the choral voices suddenly slid into descending chromatic (maybe intoxicated) lines. In “Arise, timid one,” which began with fugal imitation, the chorus softened down to humming when the focus went to soprano Gayle Smith and alto Laura Frank. The final number, “Magpie Chatter,” was a riot of choral sound effects that highlighted three chirping sopranos and two tenors. (Among the capable sopranos, Jody Lee produced a powerful tone that fairly challenged the church’s stained glass windows.)

The concert opened with JS Bach’s “Lobet den Herrn.” Even with piano accompaniment, the chorus was tentative and insecure at first. (Until now, I Cantori have called the Carmel Mission home for decades; the “Butterfly” is a completely different acoustic and, unfortunately, not insulated against traffic noise and, in this case, emergency sirens, on busy Sunset Drive.) But their confidence returned and in the second piece, the a cappella “Do, Re, Mi” Mass by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, smoothed into beautiful sonorities and textures. This sudden change could not be explained by being less of a challenge; Palestrina fabricated a theme from six tones of the diatonic scale and tortured it with all manner of polyphonic tricks. These excerpts from the full work lasted about 20 minutes in performance.

Also a cappella, and ending the first half, were the spiritual “Steal Away” as arranged by Joseph Jennings, a longtime conductor of San Francisco’s acclaimed Chanticleer, and “Tonight Eternity Alone” by American composer René Clausen, an impressionistic image of twilight turning into night after the Thomas S Jones poem “Dusk at Sea.”   

We hope more of Deaconoff’s discoveries appear on future I Cantori programs.