Youth Music Monterey, Feb 15, 2014

Astonishing transformation

By Scott MacClelland

Youth Music Monterey County music director/conductor Farkhad Khudyev has boldly taken YMMC into a radiant future for music students in Monterey County. At Sunset Center in Carmel Saturday afternoon, the Junior Youth Orchestra played the first movement from Schubert’s famous “Unfinished” Symphony in the well-known published edition, not the simplified arrangements often used by Larry Granger, Khudyev’s predecessor. Likewise, the Prelude and Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, for which the orchestra was joined by 29 members of Youth Orchestra Salinas (YOSAL) in a first time collaboration. (Total on stage numbered 62, including two adult volunteers.)

The senior Honors Orchestra took over the program’s second half with their CalebCelloPortrait_smannual in-house competition winner, this time 13-year-old Caleb Kim, to play the first movement of Edward Elgar’s daunting Cello Concerto in E Minor. Kim gave it a professional performance. He was fearless, even in one of the scariest A-string scales—from the bottom to the very top of the fingerboard—in the cello literature. His entire perusal of the profoundly expressive work made a powerful and memorable impression. So, it was only later when I offered him my congratulations face to face that I found him a typical, bashful, young teenager.

This was followed by the Central Coast premiere of Jean Sibelius’ single-movement, 20-minute Seventh Symphony. It’s an extraordinary piece, complex and in some respects more personal and original than the composer’s first six symphonies. It struck me as a risky choice for these players and, to my surprise, was the first performance of it by Khudyev himself. Yet he clearly was on his game and the young musicians played with unequivocal confidence.   

Musicians from most of the public and private middle and high schools of Monterey County attend the rehearsals and perform concerts with YMMC’s two orchestras, and now are joined by students from Boulder Creek, Santa Cruz, San Juan Bautista, Gilroy and Morgan Hill—and by 5-year-old Peninsula violin prodigy Nicholas Brady. The only artistic challenge facing YMMC and YOSAL—and the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony—is the loss of public school music programs that used to feed them. This is presently hitting the woodwind sections hardest.

The audience, largely families of the musicians and long-time supporters of YMMC included the artistic and administrative leadership of the Monterey Symphony, Carmel Music Society, YOSAL itself–and area music lovers who have grown to recognize the outstanding work being done by Monterey County student musicians. To claim that the results in this case raised the bar is an understatement. And one of the volunteer professionals, a veteran player in the community who spoke to me, praised Khudyev’s work here in the highest terms.