Although it shames me to admit it, I cannot tell a lie—I have never been to a Midwest Young Artists performance before. Despite having had numerous students in this program over the years (as well as having served as one of the ensemble and sectional coaches) through some circumstance or another, I have always had conflicts with the concerts.
It was a nice feeling, therefore, to finally get to make an appearance at one of the concerts out this past Saturday (February 25). Braving a particularly nasty winter ice storm, I headed over to Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. I vaguely remembered that teachers of MYA students got complimentary tickets, and this happily turned out to be the case. I got an excellent balcony seat with a panoramic view of the ensemble and flipped through the program as I waited for the concert to begin.
This evening’s performance featured the top MYA orchestra in a program with the winners of the Walgreens Concerto Competition. This concerto competition is fiercely competitive—I have had many students audition over the years without success. I knew that the soloists would be top-notch for the evening.
The orchestra filed out together about five minutes before the downbeat, warming up with a ton of energy. The nasty ice storm raging outside hadn’t dulled their spirits, apparently. About half of the bass section was made up of my students, which made me smile.
It is interesting to see all of the parents, brothers, sisters, and friends of the orchestra members in the audience, smiling and chatting as they waited for the concert to begin. There is a special kind of energy to the audience of a youth orchestra that is not present for professional orchestra audiences, and I find this youthful atmosphere exciting and vibrant.
Music Director Allan Dennis entered the hall from the wings and took the podium to enthusiastic applause. Everyone settled down in anticipation of the first piece of the program, which was the finale to Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with pianist Prian Chang. The young soloist tossed the energetic movement off with grace and ease, and the exciting accelerando and crescendo of the final strains sent the audience immediately to their feet.
Next on the program were the Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor by Borodin. I must admit that I am no Borodin fan, but the orchestra played quite well, and it pleased me to see my students sending the rosin flying in the forte passages. If one must hear Borodin, then at least hear it played like this
The first half closed with the unusual timbres of Alan Hovhaness’s Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints for marimba and orchestra. Molly Yeh, the young soloist for this piece, wove her sound in and out of the complex orchestral harmonies like a musical serpent. As the piece progressed it took on more of a groovy quality, slowly speeding up to a rock & roll climax that again sent the audience springing to their feet in applause.
The second half of the concert consisted solely of Rimsy-Korsakov’s evocative tone poem/symphony Scheherezade. The young musicians tackled this old orchestral warhorse quite well, and it came off very effectively. Interestingly, the famous violin solo was split up among three different players, no doubt to give more fiddlers a chance to play this solo on a concert. The musical effect was slightly weird, but the piece overall was a good experience for the students and a great conclusion to the concert.