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Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra Shines Spotlight on Concerto Competition Winners During Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Griffes’ “Poem,” Before Tackling Mahler’s Symphony No. 2
Orange County, Calif. — May 04, 2017
Orange County, Calif.—May 4, 2017—The startling virtuosity of young talent will be on full display when Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO) and two of its own rising stars deliver an evening of soaring symphonic masterpieces. In a concert designed to exude musical prowess, PSYO bravely and capably delves into the complex and brilliant music of Gustav Mahler with his “Allegro maestoso” from his masterful Symphony No. 2. And performing the “Allegro moderato” to Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s exquisite Violin Concerto is Phil Chen, the youth orchestra’s concertmaster and first-place winner of this season’s concerto competition. Second-place winner, the orchestra’s principal flute, Alison Huh, opens the concert with Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ “Poem” for Flute and Orchestra. This evening of demanding works showcases all that the orchestra has accomplished throughout the 2016-17 season.
Led by Assistant Conductor Roger Kalia, PSYO’s final concert of the season takes place Sunday, May 21, at 7 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors, this season’s concerts are free to attend, but tickets are required. To reserve a general admission seat, call the Symphony’s box office at (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“The three pieces on the program will be a culmination of all the hard work these young musicians have put in throughout the entire year,” explains Maestro Kalia. “We will also feature the two winners of the PSYO Concerto Competition. The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is one of the most famous and festive pieces in the entire repertoire, and it will feature our concertmaster Phil Chen, who will play the first movement. The work by Griffes is a relatively unknown piece to the orchestra but one of the most popular flute solo pieces in the repertoire. It will showcase our excellent principal flutist, Alison Huh.”
Griffes stands among the ranks of Debussy and Ravel as one of the more famous American Impressionist composers. Although Griffes is not as well known as other American composers, his work “Poem” for Flute and Orchestra is one of the most popular and challenging pieces for flutists. As most young American composers of his time, Griffes had studied in Germany, and his early works were, not surprisingly, rather Germanic in tone. But beginning around 1911, Griffes turned away from the Germanic style and began composing works inspired by French Impressionism and the art of the Far East. The short career of the talented composer is one of the more tragic “might-have-beens” of American music history. Griffes died young, just 35 years old, in 1920, right at the time his music was garnering attention from the major American orchestras of his day.
A Philadelphia newspaper review of the premiere of “Poem” called Griffes’ work, “one of the hopeful intimations for the future of American music.”
“Alison chose this piece as one of two winners of the PSYO Concerto Competition,” notes Kalia. “The work was composed in 1918, and the instrumentation is similar to that of a chamber orchestra, which is something that our musicians have not yet experienced this season. The solo flute part is much more lyrical than technical, and the orchestra has a variety of gorgeous and lyrical moments in the work. Alison is an amazing and mature musician, and I am absolutely thrilled for her.”
Also on the program is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which makes for a luminous centerpiece in any concert—with its graceful lyricism, contrasting bright and dark melodies and exuberant energy. This excitement was found in the music, but also in the composer himself. In fact, Tchaikovsky was so eager to write a violin concerto that he started composing it before he had finished his greatest opera, “Eugene Onegin.” Although its dedicatee, the great violinist Leopold Auer, first pronounced the concerto “unplayable,” it has since become one of the most beloved and programmed solo violin works in the repertoire.
“The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is one of the most famous and popular violin concertos of all time,” says Maestro Kalia, “and has been performed in concert halls around the world by some of the most famous violinists. The first movement of the work is technically demanding with virtuosic passages for the violin as well as consisting of sections that are extremely lyrical and expressive. The work features memorable melodies for both the solo violin and orchestra, and has one of the most famous violin cadenzas in the entire repertoire.
“Phil is a wonderful musician with a lush and beautiful sound, and with a musical maturity beyond his years,” Kalia continues. “I am excited for Phil to make his solo debut with the orchestra, and I know he will do a fantastic job with this opportunity.”
The concert concludes with the hugely dramatic, turbulent first movement of Mahler’s epic Second Symphony. According to Mahler’s own program notes, it aims to convey nothing less than a search for the meaning of life. The composer originally wrote the first movement as a stand-alone piece, and only added movements five years after he wrote the first. Completed in 1888 as “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites), a stormy symphonic poem to bear the hero of Mahler’s recently completed First Symphony to his grave, amid torment over the meaning of his life, the first movement is a tour de force that highlights the entire orchestra.
“As a conductor and educator, it is important to me that I challenge the orchestra and expose the students to repertoire that they might not have the chance to perform in school,” says Kalia. “Many musicians aren’t exposed to Mahler until they are in college or in professional orchestras, but I think that performing a work by Mahler is a great learning experience.”
The first movement of the Mahler is a musical journey that is nearly 25 minutes in length. Mahler said that ‘a symphony should represent the world,’ and this first movement has everything in it—passion, lyricism, excitement, nostalgia, loss and grandeur, among other things.
“Mahler was very specific in the score in terms of his markings that relate to tempo, expression and articulation. The challenge will be to bring all of these details to life,” Kalia adds. “I know our wonderful musicians will be up to the task, and that they will come away from this experience stronger and more mature musicians. I think it is the perfect way to cap off our exciting season and send our seniors off on a high note.”
PSYO has emerged as Orange County’s premier training orchestra, offering performance opportunities to instrumentalists in grades 9-12 and providing members with a high-quality and innovative artistic experience that encourages musical and personal growth. It is one of three highly coveted education programs under the umbrella of the Pacific Symphony Youth
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