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.

SC Symphony’s “Resurrection”

SCS soloistsBy Scott MacClelland

WHAT A WAY to end a season! Daniel Stewart took the Santa Cruz Symphony to places many of its musicians had never been before, namely Gustav Mahler’s colossal “Resurrection” Symphony. The work calls for a huge orchestra—ideally with a lot more strings than Santa Cruz can sustain—a large chorus, soprano and alto soloists (pictured above), an offstage ensemble of brass and percussion, theater organ and no shortage of special sound effects. This five movement work, that took a total of 90 minutes performance time, is a movie in sound, an epic journey from death to resurrection that goes far beyond the confines that nevertheless still trace back to the 18th century classical models of Haydn, Mozart and, especially, Beethoven.

And therein lies its design success, its coherence of architecture. Themes and rhythms from its first four movements are recombined in its finale, which alone took a full 40 minutes. Stewart conducted the work entirely from memory, his body language both leading and reacting to every detail of its sprawling pageant.

Mahler composed the work in three stages. The first movement, called Totenfeier (Funeral Rite), dates from 1888, to programmatically honor the ‘hero’ of his First Symphony. (The First and Second Symphonies can be considered a twin pair, not unlike the Ninth and Tenth Symphonies; see our Weekly Magazine this week for a performance of the latter by the London Symphony Orchestra.) The second and third movements were composed in 1893. It wasn’t until he heard the ode Auferstehn (Resurrection) by the 18th century poet Friedrich Klopstock that he found the solution he needed to complete the symphony, a choral piece that was plainly inspired by the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. (The Klopstock opens with the line, “Auferstehn, ja auferstehn wirst du, Mein Staub” Resurrect, yes you will rise again my dust.) Mahler then added his own poetical text that makes Klopstock’s mystical sentiments more personal; the final movement was completed in 1894.

He then recycled two of his previously set songs, Urlicht (Primeval Light) and Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (St Anthony Preaches to the Fishes), from the folkloric collection, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, probably composed also in 1893. The first became the intimate, five-minute fourth movement, for alto and orchestra, a description of Mankind’s need and pain and yearning for heaven. The second dispenses with the amusing text in favor of an intensely ominous ‘march’ in ¾ time, ländler-style, that undergoes a series of ever-larger climaxes, the last so terrifying that the ‘march’ never quite recovers its forward momentum.

After the Totenfeier, the trickiest movement is the last one. For one thing, it has several full stops which divide the piece into sections, or moments, the bits drawn from the earlier movements. (Even so, the progression never loses its sense of continuity.) This is also where the offstage instruments must coordinate with what’s happening on stage. To achieve this, Nathaniel Berman conducted the largest of these offstage contingents in the lobby of the Mello Center with the doors of the auditorium (on Sunday) opened for the desired musical effect and also to allow Berman to see Stewart’s cues. This dialog began with a broadly stentorian ‘call to judgment’ on the solo horn, played by Wayne Van Lieu, in the lobby. As the movement drew ever closer to its inevitable final climactic conclusion, trumpets in the balcony and the wings added to the spatial clamor.

Contralto Sara Couden (right, in the photo) sang Urlicht, and for the last 15 minutes of the performance, joined soprano Gabriella Reyes de Ramírez—powerful voices both—and Cheryl Anderson’s Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus for the Resurrection poems, rising together in a radiant glory of hope for life everlasting. It is this Christian promise that no doubt accounts in part for the popularity of this symphony, a popularity that far overshadows that of the many other Mahler masterpieces.

The Symphonic Chorus, inspired and highly disciplined Santa Cruz Symphony musicians and their talented music director Daniel Stewart collectively went out on a limb for this extremely challenging work—full as it is with contradictory rhythms, ambiguous tonalities, weird counterpoint and such jokes as the comical pizzicato episode in the second movement.

With it, they ended their 60th Anniversary season by raising their own bar even higher. As for Mahler, happily they will perform his Fourth Symphony on the opening program of their 61st season. Meanwhile, as I write this, the “Resurrection” Symphony continues to echo in my ears. I can’t get it out of my head, and I don’t want it to.