MYS Oregon to Iberia

Rooted in music: Metropolitan Youth Symphony plays works touching on the environment

MYS performed world premieres of music by Nancy Ives and Charles Martin alongside Beethoven and Lalo.

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Composer-cellist Nancy Ives. Photo by Joe Cantrell.
Composer-cellist Nancy Ives. Photo by Joe Cantrell.

With a program centered on the theme of “Rooted,” the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra filled Newmark Theatre on March 3 with several pieces that touched on the environment. Led by MYS Music Director-Conductor Raúl Gómez-Rojas, the concert included pieces by Beethoven and Édouard Lalo, and world premieres by Nancy Ives and Charles Martin. It all added up to an excellent way to root great music into the lives of some of Oregon’s young musicians. 

One of the coolest things about this orchestra is its partnership with the Fear No Music’s Young Composers Project, which promotes the writing of new works by talented youth. For this concert, the MYS performed The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Charles Martin, an accomplished, homeschooled 17-year-old who has been very active in the Portland metro area as a composer, pianist, and singer.

Based on the Hans Christian Anderson story with the same name, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Martin’s music portrayed a tragic tale involving metal toys. Martin deftly portrayed the characters with combinations of instruments, such as the bassoon and lower strings for the toy king, and conveyed the events of the story with evocative musical passages: the tin soldier marched about, the princess danced with an elegant legato, and the selfish toy king became aggressive with trumpets blaring. There were some moments in the piece that reminded me of Prokofiev (perhaps Lieutenant Kijé) before chaos ensued with the toy king unleashing his troops on the soldier. The ending expertly captured the fire and the dying embers, with the soldier and the princess melted together. 

While the audience enthusiastically acknowledged Martin’s music with cheers and applause, he was blocked from coming to center stage by a wall that was at least waist-high. Martin overcame that challenge by simply hoisting himself and stepping over the wall. That was a feat that I expect never to see a composer do again, but showed Martin’s resolve and pluck and bodes well for his future! 

With Pando by Nancy Ives, the orchestra painted the picture of a quaking aspen that lives in the mountains of Utah. It is considered the world’s largest tree because it has a root system that extends 106 acres. A delicate roll of sound from the timpani created a breeze, accompianing rainfall generated by flutes glissando-ing downwards and tapping from the strings. After a brief pause came a “plunk” from the double bases, indicating the seed finding its way into the soil. From that point on the orchestra wove a sonic tapestry to evoke roots vigorously spreading into the soil and branches extending skyward. Concertmaster Jaden Yazhari executed his solo with great sensitivity and the cellos excelled with a lovely melody. A demonstrative interruption from the timpani signaled trouble, and the trumpets took over with a repetitive line that traveled into the entire ensemble before fragmenting and fading into the distance. That may have suggested a forest fire. Did the tree survive?

In case any reader was wondering, Ives did not have to jump a wall to come to center stage for her bow. Since her piece was in the second half of the program, the ushers had plenty of time to direct her through a side door to the stage, and she received loud acclaim from the audience.

The first movement of Édouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto received a scintillating performance by Ian Ko, who won the MYS Concerto Competition in the strings category. The 16-year-old cellist, a student of the Oregon Symphony’s Marilyn de Oliveira, elicited a rich, warm tone in the “Lento” movement and then turned on the jets to race through the challenging “Allegro Maestoso.” Accompanied with sensitive playing from the orchestra, Ko expressed the beauty of the concerto and made it all look easy-peasy to boot. That resulted in a standing ovation and thunderous applause from all corners of the hall.

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The orchestra delivered a spirited performance of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (Pastorale), famous for its descriptive scenes of life in the countryside. Even though Beethoven warned listeners of taking the movements too literally, it is nearly impossible to stop your imagination wandering to a bucolic landscape. Despite slippages in intonation, the orchestra aptly expressed each movement with passion and flair. The end of the second movement, which has a sequence of bird-like calls, was especially charming, because each of the woodwinds stood up when it was time for his/her solo. Also, the entire orchestra impressively expressed the thunderstorm that erupted in the fourth movement and the happiness of the shepherds in the final movement. 

The concert began with Giancarlo Castro D’Addona leading the Concert Orchestra in the Overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute and the Overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville. Playing each piece with pep and verve, the ensemble, which has younger students than the MYS orchestra, demonstrated an excellent environment for healthy, young musical roots to grow. 

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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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