A LARGE AUDIENCE packed Sunset Center for Youth Music Monterey County’s “Peace and Drama” program Sunday afternoon. The mysterious title was concocted by music director/conductor Farkhad Khudyev. (He does the same for all the orchestra concerts.) Drama at YMMC inevitably comes down to the resources—i.e. student musicians—that change from year to year. In this case, the senior Honors Orchestra can tackle just about anything while the Junior Youth Orchestra is populated with a disproportionate number of relative beginners.
The 42-strong junior group, swelled by the addition of 24 guest members from Youth Orchestra Salinas (YOSAL) nevertheless took on challenging arrangements of Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, Rossini’s William Tell Overture and the final movement of Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony. Concertmaster Juliana Baker, at student at San Carlos School, stood to signal the oboist to tune the orchestra—a noble gesture that produced mixed results. (Seated, her feet barely reached the floor.) But the zeal produced by these young musicians underscored the occasion and delighted the crowd.
During the intermission, the Carmel Music Society Steinway was rolled out onto the stage, the first time during Khudyev’s tenure that a piano concerto would be a concert highlight. The Honors Orchestra, 46 musicians, including three ringers and six who had also played with the junior orchestra, stuffed the stage to capacity. An orchestra clarinetist, Simon Xinyun Liu, stepped from the wings to play, from memory, the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s popular Piano Concerto in D Minor. Born in China, where he began his piano studies at age seven, Liu (pictured) came to the US two years ago. He is now a junior at Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas and a “talented” piano student of Lyn Bronson. As easy as the Rachmaninoff is on the ear, it is certainly no walk in the park for the soloist, or the orchestra. Yet a virtually professional performance ensued.
With the piano rolled offstage, and Liu back in the woodwind section, orchestra and conductor then gave what was described as the California premiere of the single-movement “Youth” Symphony by the teenaged Rachmaninoff, a tuneful and ultimately dramatic student piece lasting about twelve minutes. Even at that early stage in his life, the hallmarks of the mature composer were plainly on display. Moreover, it challenged the orchestra in kind.
That ear-opener was followed by the theatrical overture from Verdi’s La forza del destino, famous for its stentorian opening brass chords and its potpourri of memorable melodies from the opera. The confidence shown by this orchestra gave them a swagger of their own, which the audience generously rewarded.