MYS Oregon to Iberia

Honoring the past, setting sights on the future: Portland Youth Philharmonic and Imani Winds

PYP geared up for their upcoming East Coast tour with a thrilling concert featuring music by Amy Beach, Jessie Montgomery, and Jeff Scott.


Imani Winds at Alberta Rose Theatre, April 2022. Photo by Tom Emerson.
Imani Winds at Alberta Rose Theatre, April 2022. Photo by Tom Emerson.

With a program that honored the past and set its sights on the future, the Portland Youth Philharmonic unleashed an inspiring performance March 2 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Led by Musical Director David Hattner, the young musicians eagerly dug into demanding works by Amy Beach and Jessie Montgomery before teaming up with Grammy-award-winning Imani Winds to deliver a swinging, jazzy new piece by Jeff Scott. Now Hattner, his forces, and the Imani Winds will take the show on the road, ready to wow audiences on the East Coast later this month.  

Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony, completed by in 1894 and premiered by the Boston Symphony two years later, is the first symphony to be written by an American female composer. Clocking in at around 40 minutes, its boisterous and dramatic outer movements deftly sandwich the two lyrical inner movements that include some lovely Irish folk tunes. Some critics have made a very strong case that the Gaelic Symphony is the best symphonic work written by any American before World War 1. 

Guided expertly by Hattner, the orchestra created a rich sonic tapestry with swirling strings and short blasts from the brass. Now and then the clarinets evoked a woodland-like sound as the ensemble marched to the grand closing of the first movement. The second movement was imbued with lovely folk songs, highlighted by the playing of oboist Eleanor Price, flutist Macy Gong, clarinetists Miloh Dunn and Katie Huh, Willem Abbassi on English horn, and Alden Leonard on French horn. Dance-like melodies filled the third movement with concertmaster Katie Liu eliciting sweet solos, the cellos warming up the hall with a lilting theme, and a glowing brass choir adding to the mood. The orchestra picked up the pace in the fourth movement and elicited a triumphant finale that received cheers and thunderous applause from the audience.

After intermission, the strings of the orchestra delved into Jessie Montgomery’s Strum with gusto. The rhythmic drive and folk-like, melodic textures gave the piece (revised for orchestra in 2012) an air of familiarity. Principal cellist Sarah Lee played with terrific sensitivity and all-around excellent dynamics shaped the piece with bows raised and an uplifting ending.

The entire orchestra took the stage for Paradise Valley Serenade, which Jeff Scott wrote as a tribute to a vibrant African-American neighborhood of Detroit that was demolished under the name of “urban renewal.” In the program notes, Scott mentioned several theaters, bars, hotels, and famous entertainers (especially Cab Calloway) who made the Paradise Valley neighborhood a hot spot in the Motor City. For this concert, the PYP teamed up with the Imani Winds to give the West Coast premiere of Paradise Valley Serenade, which Scott completed in 2021.

The orchestra established the first movement (“Dawn and Dusk”) with the slow and stately sentiment before sweeping up into a crescendo that disappeared and cleared the way for a wonderfully wild solo from Imani Winds clarinetist Mark Dover. Then all of the musicians re-engaged with a heavy, jazzy, big-band sound, complete with a back-beat from the drum set. The second movement (“Paradise, Lost but Not Forgotten”) was wistful. Imani Winds bassoonist Monica Ellis and oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz conveyed a tender lament with support from the strings. The third movement (“A Hug for Cab Calloway”) kicked off a stirring finale with the trombones creating a walking bass line. Imani Winds hornist Kevin Newton had a field day with his solo, evoking Calloway’s fun and wide-ranging style.

The PYP, which is celebrating its centennial, will be joined by the Imani Winds for three concerts on its East Coast tour. They are booked at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland on March 25, Neidorff-Karpati Hall at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City on March 28, and at Mechanics Hall in Worchester, Massachusetts on March 29. 


MYS Oregon to Iberia

PS: Sibling rivalry – Ben Price was the principal oboist when the PYP last performed the Gaelic Symphony in 2019. Ben’s sister, Eleanor, currently has that same position with PYP, and, like Ben, played extremely well. Which sibling played it better? Hmm…

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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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