YMM’s ‘Peasant Spirit’

By Scott MacClelland

A FRESH CHALLENGE for Youth Music Monterey conductor Farkhad Khudyev starts with facing a new orchestra every school year, to somehow mold and bring eager young musicians into performing artistic focus. Any regular attendant to YMM’s concerts can see and hear the process, season in and year out. But the real adventure—our adventure and his challenge—is to watch what happens over the course of each year’s three orchestra concerts, fall, winter and spring.

The constituents aren’t limited to that year’s students and their enthusiastic families—Sunset Center was SRO on Sunday afternoon—but includes Youth Orchestra Salinas (YOSAL)—represented by some 40 of their advanced students—and their families, institutional partners Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Carmel Music Society and the Monterey Symphony, not to mention the various contributing foundations and grantors, the teachers and schools who also lend their support and feeder programs, like Orchestra in the Schools.

I cannot emphasize this enough. The village it takes to keep children safe from the streets, from gangs and drugs, needs to be huge in Monterey County, which sadly is one of the most dangerous in the state when it comes to teens and young adults. If a YMM orchestra concert is the tip of a successful iceberg it is also the tip of an extraordinary support network most of which often falls below the radar of common recognition. 

The YOSAL orchestra, wearing their colorful rainbow banners, joined YMM’s Junior Youth for one of the Slavonic Dances by Dvořák, an orchestra of about 80 that packed the stage and thumped mightily. Khudyev honored the YOSAL guests by asking them to stand first. The Junior Youth Orchestra followed with the energetic final movement from Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. But their tour-de-force would be the Bacchanale from Saint-Saëns’ exotic opera Samson et Dalila, an exotic, even erotic, orchestral showpiece that ignited the audience to well-deserved cheers.

A second Slavonic Dance was listed in the program handout but cancelled without notice, leaving the hall in the dark and the audience in limbo until board president Dorothy Micheletti reappeared on stage to announce that intermission was underway.

At last the Honors Orchestra took the stage to open its half of the concert with Franz von Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture, a 19th century bristle filled with technical challenges that, for the violins, proved a stretch. The orchestra’s principal bassoonist, Amadeus Soria (photo above), took the solo spot for Andante e Rondo Ungarese by Carl Maria von Weber, an early pioneer of the Romantic style of opera. At nine minutes, and a technical workout, it is often found on competition programs. Soria’s reading was virtually flawless and attracted an instant standing ovation. This young man, who has political science on his career agenda, is well ahead of the curve as a virtuoso of the instrument.

Khudyev, as he has done so many times with YMM, concluded his program with another regional premiere, Edvard Grieg’s Symphonic Dances of 1898. These four tuneful pieces, each with contrasting moods, are ultimately full of good cheer, beguiling syncopations and optimism, masking the technical challenges an orchestra must meet. At the end of the long, last movement, Khudyev’s cut-off didn’t quite work as he intended and needed one more gesture from him to put paid to the otherwise polished performance.

Photo by Ian Martin