YMMC and Ensemble Monterey

By Scott MacClelland


RARITIES PREVAILED during the Youth Music Monterey County spring concert on Sunday. Its eight-member brass ensemble, directed by Alex Bedner, opened the show with pieces by 16th century Tylman Susato, composer and music publisher from Antwerp. Then the Junior Youth Orchestra, 12 South County Strings (from remote Bradley and San Antonio school districts thanks to John Thomas Fritz and Kelly Stuart respectively) and the nearly full-sized Orchestra in the Schools, whose director is James Paoletti, were conducted by YMMC music director Farkhad Khudyev in a movement from Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony. (I don’t think they could have put one more player on the Sunset Center stage.)

JustinVuThe two guest groups then retired and the strings of the Junior Youth Orchestra accompanied 12-year-old Justin Khoi Vu (left) who fearlessly performed the one-movement Violin Concerto in A Minor of 1868 by one Jean-Baptiste Accolay. (With almost no documentation to verify the composer’s existence, many have conjectured that the name was a pseudonym used by Henri Vieuxtemps for his pedagogical works.) The strings of the orchestra sounded under-rehearsed. But the following two movements from Turkish Fragments by Ippolitov-Ivanov, with the winds, brass and percussion restored, was a flat-out success and sounded a perfect fit for an orchestra of this level.

The YMMC Chamber Players string quartet, coached by Erica Horn, gave a fully professional account of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade, a work that is not at all as simple to play as it is felicitous on the ear.

After Khudyev made comments about the remainder of the program, the senior Honors Orchestra broadly played Borodin’s popular In the Steppes of Central Asia, followed by the surprise piece of the day, the US premiere of Symphonic Pictures Turkmenistan by the short-lived Turkmen composer, Nury Halmamedov, who dazzled his teachers at the Moscow conservatory with it at the age of 23. Dazzle is the right word. This was clearly the work of a tremendously gifted musician. Each of its five movements displays a range of moods, from sorrow to joy, all skillfully drawn under Khudyev’s ever-sensitive control. In addition to its protean moods were all manner of orchestral effects, startling rhythms and sophisticated ‘local’ colors. One of the movements was played in a quick 5/4 meter. Exotic effects came from all quarters of the orchestra, including harp, tambourine, suspended cymbal and saxophone. The performance was fabulous and Khudyev singled out for credit a dozen individual members of the orchestra during the standing ovation at its conclusion.

John-Head-Shot-ColorENSEMBLE MONTEREY CONDUCTOR John Anderson made it clear that he’s been itching to produce the Handel oratorio Israel in Egypt for most of his adult life. The work was first performed in London in 1739 and opened with an original first section, The Ways of Zion do Mourn, that was later deleted. Anderson used the 90-minute revised version. For the production, heard Saturday in Carmel, Cheryl Anderson’s Cantiamo! 41-voice chorus joined the enlarged 21-piece orchestra that added trombones, drums, trumpet, winds and keyboards to the core string ensemble. When all forces were engaged the sound filled every corner of All Saints Church.

The two parts of the oratorio that remain are titled Exodus and Moses’ Song. The text draws primarily on the book of Exodus, and adds passages from various psalms. While one can be amazed at the composer’s variety of effects in Moses’ Song, the first part is the more entertaining for all the tone painting depicting the Plagues of Egypt.

After a recitative set-up and a double chorus crying out to God by the oppressed Israelites, a vigorous fugue portrays the Egyptians loathing to drink water now turned to blood. The violins then hopped like frogs as the baritone described the scene in an aria, which went on to list the pestilence that afflicted men and beasts alike. A heraldic double chorus with trombones cited the flies, lice and locusts, with the violins now the buzzing flies. Beginning with a few raindrops on the violins, the chorus and full orchestra, including timpani, delivered ‘hailstones for rain’ and ‘fire mingled with the hail.’

Moses’ Song texts go over the events following the Red Sea crossing repetitiously, like so many rosary beads. Yet Handel keeps coming up with surprising musical combinations. Sandwiched between a noisy pair of double choruses was a most lovely and intimate duet for sopranos, harpsichord and strings. A duet for bass voices was set over a dotted rhythm for orchestra including winds. A coloratura tenor aria made jaunty fun in 3/8 time of the now-lost enemy’s threats. For the following soprano aria describing the wind across the sea driving the Egyptians to their watery graves only the winds of the orchestra were heard. Staccato dotted-rhythm strings gave the triumphant chorus “The people shall hear” added intensity, followed immediately by the pastoral 3/8 meter alto aria “Thou shalt bring them in.” The piece ended with a soprano solo, double chorus and full orchestra, fugal and with much coloratura all round.

Eleven members of Cantiamo!, of varying degrees of skill and experience, took solos and/or duets. Vanessa Yearsley stood out among them for her beauty of tone, polish and projection.

(Until a few years ago, two and half minutes from Israel in Egypt dated 1888 was thought to be the earliest audio recording. As you might imagine, it’s very scratchy.)