Oregon Cultural Trust

A beautiful sonic bouquet: Camerata PYP’s Sound Garden

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s chamber orchestra strutted their stuff with a challenging program that included four world premieres.

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Portland Youth Philharmonic. Photo by Brian Clark.
Portland Youth Philharmonic. Photo by Brian Clark.

Four world premieres on one concert program are a tall order for any ensemble, but Camerata PYP, which consists of students who have not yet graduated from high school, took on that task and delivered the newbies with aplomb at The Patricia Reser Center for the Performing Arts on January 5. In addition to the brand-new pieces, the Camerata PYP also excelled with works by Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky, featuring soloists Derek Choi and Sarah Lee. On top of that, a select group also played challenging numbers by Bohuslav Martinů and Tomáš Svoboda. Led by PYP’s Musical Director David Hattner, each selection on the program, entitled Sound Garden, sounded excellent – a real tribute to the high quality of PYP, which is celebrating its one hundredth anniversary this season. 

During the first half of the concert, Choi and Lee–both runners-up in PYP’s annual concerto competition–astounded the capacity crowd. Choi, principal second violin of the PYP, scaled the heights of Vivaldi’s “Winter” (the fourth concerto of The Four Seasons) with terrific intonation and elan. Lee, PYP’s principal cellist, beguiled listeners with her immaculate and evocative playing of Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso in an arrangement by Ken Selden, conductor of the PSU Symphony. The strings of the Camerata PYP accompanied Choi and Lee with sensitive playing, which made both pieces sparkle.

Martinů’s Nonet No. 2 generated an idiosyncratic and lively conversation between the musicians (violinist Katie Liu, violist Luke D’Silva, cellist Sarah Lee, bassist Daphne Titterington, flutist Macy Gong, oboist Eleanor Price, clarinetist Miloh Dunn, bassoonist Katelyn Nguyen, and hornist Alden Leonard). Over the course of three movements, the music bounced about from the sprightly humoresque to languid and almost solemn passages, but also soaring lines and beautiful, melodic phrases. Each of the nine instrumentalists rose to the challenge of one or more exposed solos with gusto. 

A slightly different ensemble (violinists Asher Milman and Liu, violist D’Silva, bassist Titterington, piccoloist Gong, oboist Price, and clarinetist Dunn) tackled Svoboda’s Folk Concertino for Seven Instruments with vigor. The piece contrasted propulsive, busy threads for all the players with slower, more thoughtful passages – like for the viola – and moments when all would pause so that we could hear the double bass – as if its sound was the glue holding the whole thing together.

Four premieres

The world premiere of Randy Bauer’s House Carpenter kicked off the second half of the program. In his introductory remarks, Hattner noted that the piece contained an extraordinary number of meter changes, and that might have been a factor in my inability to grasp the melodic themes of the piece, which was based on “Blues and Folk Song Arrangements.” The main material moved from section to section, and sometimes one section, for example the upper strings, took a line that was juxtaposed with what the lower strings were playing. Even the double basses got their moment in the spotlight. Perhaps I got lost in the sophistication, and hearing it again some day would help. 

Kamyar Mohajer’s Amoroso reflected his Persian heritage with slow moving, melodic textures for the cellos and violas that gradually involved the violins.  The music seemed to express a longing for something that has been lost, especially when the violins soared with an aching plea. That was followed by a driving passage from the basses, and finally the piece subsided to a gentle, quiet ending. 

Desert Suite for Strings by Australian composer David Pyke presented four brief movements (“Shifting Sands,” “Introspection,” “Camel Menuet,” and “Scorpion Fish Dance”) that conveyed some aspect associated with the desert.  The lumpy sounds of the camels and the rhythmic movement of the fish were especially appealing. 

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Last year, the PYP (the full-sized orchestra) premiered Variations for Piano and Strings by Seattle-based composer Bruce Stark. He enjoyed it so much that he wrote a new piece, Serenade for String Orchestra, which received its first performance by the Camerata PYP. The first movement displayed lovely melodies, thrilling ascending passages for the violins. The second sang with a lovely duet between the cellos and violins, a dramatic descending passage, and unison lines an octave apart. The third opened with a robust statement, speedy phrases for each section, and an exciting, rhythmic drive to a triumphant finale that sent everyone home with an uplifted spirit, making a beautiful sonic bouquet for Camerata PYP’s Sound Garden.

Postscript: I sat near Kamyar Mohajer and was able to talk to him a bit. He was very impressed with the talent and musicianship of the Camerata PYP. I also met Bruce Stark during intermission, and he had only superlative comments for the sound of the musicians. Kudos to Hattner and his musical forces.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

James Bash enjoys writing for The Oregonian, The Columbian, Classical Voice North America, Opera, and many other publications. He has also written articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. He received a fellowship to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera, and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.
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