Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko

Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony reviews: among the young stars

Season ending concerts from Portland youth orchestras showcase the area's young classical musicians

by TERRY ROSS

They’re perhaps the second-best orchestra in Portland. And that’s saying something, considering that, unlike the Oregon Symphony, they’re all amateurs — everyone, including the first-chair players.

Plus they’re all college age or younger (sometimes much younger).

David Hattner led PYP’s spring concert at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Photo: Brian Clark.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic, the oldest young musicians’ band in the country, founded in 1924, is coming up on its centenary. Known as the Portland Junior Symphony for the first 54 years of its existence, it has flourished for 92 years with only five conductors. Formed by schoolteacher Mary Dodge at the Irvington School, the band soon secured the services of the Russian emigré Jacques Gershkovitch as its first conductor. The maestro served until 1953, when an alumnus of his orchestra, Jacob Avshalomov, took over and ruled the roost for another 42 (!) years. During Avshalomov’s tenure, the band enjoyed such illustrious guest conductors as Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland.

Welshman Huw Edwards assumed control when “Mr. A.,” as he was called, retired in 1995. When Edwards left in 2002, Mei-Ann Chen became conductor, and she yielded the baton in 2008 to the current leader, David Hattner, who has led the group for the past nine years, having been chosen from a field of 112 candidates.

Hattner may be the best yet at the PYP. An accomplished clarinetist, he came relatively late to conducting but has compiled an impressive list of credits, including performances in Brooklyn, Eugene, Cincinnati and with the Oregon Symphony. He has instituted a chamber orchestra series to supplement PYP’s orchestra offerings, and to hear him talk about his job is to realize how committed he is to the mission of bringing talented kids and classical music together.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic that played on Sunday, May 7 in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was large: more than 100 young musicians, including an enormous string section and very generous winds (eight horns, four clarinets, four bassoons, four flutes, three oboes), plus a superb and charismatic timpanist, Colin Crandal, who seemed to be an inspiration for the whole band. With such forces, the orchestra succeeded in making itself heard clearly in the Schnitz’s wretched acoustics.

Composer Debra Kaye. Photo: Genevieve Spielberg.

This was very welcome in the program’s first selection, Ikarus Among the Stars, by New York composer Debra Kaye, a piece commissioned by the parents of former PYP violist Benjamin Yaphet Klatchko, who died in 2015 at age 16. Kaye’s 16-minute score balances the full orchestra’s sound against chamber music-like passages and electro-acoustic material recorded by Binya, as Mr. Klatchko was known. These include rhythm tracks, keyboard riffs, and even snatches of a song called “Among the Stars.” Their inclusion, especially the song’s, yield a somber but uplifting tone, a moving addition to Ms. Kaye’s sensitive and elegiac orchestration, which balanced the aspirations and fate of the mythological Ikarus’s attempt to escape earth’s clutches.

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