Friday, June 13, 2014

Music in May

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of working with 56 young musicians selected to play in the Music in May Festival Orchestra, hosted by Pacific University, in Forest Grove, Oregon.  It was 'old home week' for me, my first time at Pacific in over twenty years, when McCready Hall, in the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center -- first opened to great fanfare.  (And what a gem it is.) But Pacific University is also the site where my teaching and conducting career began, fresh out of Yale, nearly thirty years ago.  (For those of you who  are thinking how old I am, let me warn you that I've played basketball already four times this week, including one game where I beat my son's team!)

But I digress.

Concert day was a real thrill, in the Stoller Gymasium, the only campus venue large enough to hold over 400 musicians and all of the family and friends who came to hear them perform.  But my strongest memory will be of my rehearsals with a group of classy, eager and outstanding young citizens, all there in the service of music and good fun.

Kristin, Luke, Mack and Tyler held up the string section, and the four of them together were easily one of the finest high school bass sections I have ever worked with.   On cello there was Micah, Karla, Clair, Athena, Keegan and Nate -- les six took great delight in knowing that, of all the instruments playing the melody at the beginning of Dvorak's Eighth Symphony (including clarinets, horns and bassoons), only the violoncelli were given the direction: espressivo.   There were just four violas:  Jessenia, Charley, Summer and Lyndsey, but they held their own very well, and not once did the other string sections drown them out!   On violin there were twelve:  Jonathan, Kathleen, Hanna, Jessica, Kendra, Taylor, Alec, Teagan, Joseph and Daniel (plus Victor and Anastasia, Pacific students who were gracious enough to help us out), and they acquitted themselves admirably, particularly since no one else in the orchestra had music to play that was more difficult than what Dvorak gave them.  Tough stuff.  (Way to go, guys!)  Miss Ihas, a violist on the faculty at Pacific, helped me with the strings throughout the festival; she introduced Mascagni's Intermezzo (from Cavelleria Rusticana) to the string section, and they played it beautifully in the concert.

Let's continue with the woodwinds -- at the high end, there was Ali, who played piccolo, but also flute with her colleagues Jessika, Charlotte and Kendra.  Jessica told me later this was her first time in orchestra, but you wouldn't have known it. (Of course, this was likely true for most of the woodwinds!)  Megan and Kyle played oboe; there was a running contest to see if Kyle would ever make a mistake in rehearsal, and he finally did, but only once.  (And another thing: Kyle also played the English Horn solo beautifully in the Dvorak.) There were six clarinetists, Joshua, Joy, Ian, Luna, Tara and Nikki, all with big personalities, but none bigger than Nikki, who has dreams of being a conductor someday.  (Good luck if you do, Nikki!) Lucas was by himself on bassoon -- good thing we had him!

The horns were solid all weekend: Timothy Mac, Phoebus, Erin and Timothy H.  They were splendid, and were not thrown off when I gave them more music to play than they'd asked for (mostly 2nd bassoon stuff, to join in with Lucas when needed).  On trumpet were Chandler, Isaac and Aly (who conducted the orchestra the day before the concert with great feeling and sensitivity).  These three played with a noble tone uncommon for high school trumpeters -- not once did I have to admonish them for playing too loud, or too stridently. Great job, guys.

At the first rehearsal, I was a little surprised to see two tubas when we only needed one, but Samantha and Matthew (who also conducted on Friday) could not have been more well matched. On trombone we had Devon, Dawson, Jonathan and Steven (who showed up for the first rehearsal in a kilt -- a friend has been bugging me for years to get a kilt and conduct in it, so I was just a little jealous.)   Devon also played in the band, but he also joined us in the orchestra so that we had have some needed extra heft for some of the big climaxes. Jonathan, Dawson and Devon sounded great in the opening of the Dvorak, and Steven was equally fine playing the 2nd bassoon part on bass trombone -- such a nice sound they made together!  And imagine my surprise when Steven presented Schumann's Dichterliebe to me during a break in the action; when I went to the piano to begin playing the first song, "Im wundershoenen Monat Mai," Steven broke out in a beautiful tenor voice -- wow!

Which brings us to the percussion, Aaron, Brandon, Kaitlin and Libby -- poor guys only had one piece to play (Hoe-Down, from Copland's Rodeo), so one of the other percussion mentors took them aside and had them work on a piece to play on their own, which opened the concert.  But I will long remember how they reared up for their big YEEEEE --- HAWWWWW in the Copland!  (And Libby was awesome on woodblock!)  Then there was Levi, who played timpani and piano and . . . harp!  Well not harp exactly, but the harp part, for the Intermezzo.  Levi wins the versatility award (Steven might be tied for first, because in addition to his tenor voice and bass trombone playing, he also did some nifty conducting.)  Levi played an original piano composition for me, revealing a very inventive and accomplished young musician.

What a wonderful group of young people -- I expect great things from them in the future!