By Scott MacClelland
A STANDING ROOM ONLY audience for Youth Music Monterey’s “Exoticism in Music” concert at Carmel’s Sunset Center on Sunday was all the more conspicuous by who wasn’t there than by who was. That would be the media. (Apology to KSBW’s Joe Heston and his wife, longtime supporters of YMM who most certainly were in attendance.) Every local classical music presenter was in the house. Where were the reporters?
Music director Farkhad Khudyev just took third prize at the Georg Solti International Conducting Competition in Germany, and watching his performance on the podium of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade showed why. His style and instincts are unique among conductors I have observed; with body language, subtle gestures and facial expressions he forces his musicians to focus on his artistic interpretation. A fluttering of the fingers of his left hand, a slight shrug of one shoulder, a broad smile and even a stop of all motion on the podium signal an example that inspires and lifts his musicians. He makes them dial in and bear responsibility equally.
The simple fact is YMM has risen to a professional level under Khudyev’s vision. He teaches his musicians to magnify their attention on him, exactly what all conductors must do, on the fly. In performances, as distinguished from rehearsals, he keeps them guessing. Of course he gives them the big entry cues, but once given he pulls back to romancing the shape and phrasing of what comes next. By contrast, and no less important in growing YMM to this point, his predecessor, Larry Granger, was far more a micro-manager. Today, the YMM dynamic is a joy to behold. As an original founder of YMM, I could not be more thrilled.
The details of this concert event must not be overlooked. Twenty one members of Youth Orchestra Salinas (YOSAL), adorned with their colorful neck ribbons, joined YMM’s Junior Youth Orchestra for the grand “Procession of the Sardar” from Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Caucasian Sketches. (From the stage, Khudyev acknowledged the work of the staff and educators of YOSAL.) Those student musicians then retired to the audience, except for flutist Edward Truong who remained with the YMM group for two more pieces, the complex and challenging “Arabian Dance” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt and the Fantasia on Serbian Themes by Rimsky-Korsakov. Not simplified arrangements, these works were performed as originally published.
Then it came time for the Honors Orchestra portion of the program. Each year YMM students compete to play a solo, usually a movement from a concerto, but in this case Alexandre Guilmant’s virtuosic Morçeau Symphonique that featured trombonist Elijah Taurke (pictured). A local premiere, it gave Taurke a fine workout, ranging from rapid coloratura to long slow phrasing, including a big solo, and he rose to the occasion in fine tone and style.
Khudyev then conducted a stunning performance of Scheherazade, one of the most magical and colorful examples of late 19th century Russian “oriental” music. The difficult final movement was omitted, which allowed for the other three—in order, first (The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship), third (The Young Prince and the Young Princess) and second (The Kalendar Prince)—to attain the level of polish and execution that wowed the audience to an instantaneous standing ovation.
The piece is loaded with cameo solos and the musicians who got them deserve special acknowledgment, starting with concertmaster Megan Tang, who, as the title character, introduces the stories selected from the tales of 1001 Nights. She had extensive, highly exposed solos and played them with authority. Cellist Kim Kistler joined Tang in duos and took command of many big solos herself. Other standouts came from oboist Danylo Didoszak, flutist Olive de Luca, bassoonist Alan Truong, clarinetist Daniel Hernandez, trumpeter Adam Shapiro, hornist India Maaske, trombonist Taurke and harpist Isabelle Sanford. I’m sure I’m leaving out other worthy names but Rimsky’s score is so rich with distinctive effects that you need more than a scorecard to keep track.
As I write this, the music of Scheherazade continues to play in my head, and the way Khudyev shaped and molded his young orchestra will long remain vivid in my memory.