Photo by Ted AYALA
By Ted AYALA
When thinking about attending a performance of youth orchestras, one can’t help but groan inwardly. How to put up with it? Yes, you want to mean well and you understand that kids are kids, not fully professional musicians. But unless you’re the parent or family member of one of the members of these orchestras, it’s hard to keep up the smile, forgive the inevitable lapses in ensemble and intonation, and claim you enjoyed the show at the close of the concert. Luckily for yours truly, the Glendale Youth Orchestra (GYO), under the charismatic leadership of Brad Keimach, posed no such terrors in their May 22 concert at the Alex Theatre in downtown Glendale.
I first had the opportunity to hear the GYO during a Positive Motions concert last year at Glendale’s First Baptist Church. Their playing of the opening movement of Mozart’s 31st Symphony was a marvel of youthful energy and disciplined playing. Presenting a program of formidable musical difficulty last Sunday, the GYO impressed even more so. Not only did the orchestra as an ensemble impress. But it was the quality of their soloists, a pair of whom was showcased at the last concert, which also was a marvel.
Bounding onto the stage and dancing along to the music was clarinetist Andrew Moses, who looked to be no older than 10 years of age. Opening with Witold Lutoslawski’s spiky Dance Preludes for clarinet and orchestra – an early work from his “socialist realist” period steeped in the language of Bartók and barely hinting at the avant-garde paths he would soon pursue following the liberalization of Polish cultural policies in the late 1950s – Moses held a firm grasp of the work and infused the music with a potent rhythmic vitality. This is music that requires an almost gymnastic musical prowess from the soloist. No problems there for clarinetist Moses, however. The work’s virtuosic demands were tossed off with nonchalant grace and wit by Moses. This is a musician of enormous talent and I hope that he continues on his musical path. If he can preserve that fiery temperament, then he might prove to be someone born to play Carl Nielsen’s taxing Clarinet Concerto.
Sarah Worden emerged from the second violins to the spotlight in a warm and characterful interpretation of Mendelssohn’s evergreen Violin Concerto. The sureness of her intonation and shading were stunning. Playing with controlled grace one moment and melting lyricism the next, Worden’s musicianship was superb, displaying a deep musical maturity.
Schumann’s 2nd Symphony is already tricky enough to perform for professional symphony orchestras. Rhythmically intricate, the work’s difficulties aren’t helped by Schumann’s gauche orchestration. Yet beneath all that lies a musical gem of breathtaking beauty, formal integrity, and life affirming majesty. So what a surprise to hear the GYO navigate through the work’s unsteady terrain with ease and fluency.
Right from the start Schumann poses problems for his musicians. The opening bars, a majestic brass fanfare of quiet power, has to ensure that it doesn’t play out too loud nor that it gets swamped by the accompanying strings. Keimach elicited from the GYO a perfect balance here, polishing Schumann’s opaque instrumentation to a bright sheen.
In the frenetic scherzo that follows, the GYO handily made short work of the movement’s difficult moto-perpetuo-like figurations. Unanimity of ensemble was held throughout in playing of enormous vigor.
But what most impressed was the GYO’s playing of the moltenly beautiful Andante third movement. This was no superficial gloss, but playing of real heart-felt emotion and weight.
Finally, Keimach led his orchestra to the powerful finale where the GYO’s outstanding musicianship, which played the movement with masterly control and power, reached a summit of radiant energy at the coda.
Conductor Keimach has mentored a fine orchestra. Like his own teacher, Leonard Bernstein, Keimach dances like a dervish on the podium: now swooning, now alight with passion. His contagious energy definitely inspired most brilliant playing from the GYO.
It’s always a great thing to see organizations devoted to inculcating a love of musical craft to young people, but doubly so when it’s done with such gusto and quality as is displayed with the GYO. With young people like these waiting in the wings, the musical future certainly looks bright.