By Philippa Kiraly
It restores faith in the future of classical music to go to hear the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra. There are many kids listening attentively in the audience to the mass of kids playing on stage. The big orchestra is professional in demeanor, and the performance is high class playing.
While much of this is due to the fine adult musicians who nurture their talent—the conductors of all of SYSO’s orchestras and the coaches who work with individual sections as well as each child’s individual instrumental teacher—a lot is due the kids themselves. If they didn’t stick to the work and give up many hours to practice, they wouldn’t be where they are today.
Sunday afternoon’s concert at Benaroya Hall showcased the two winners of the orchestra’s 2010 Concerto Competition; violinist Carina Vincenti in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and bassoonist Benjamin Roidl-Ward in Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B Flat, K. 191. Flanking these were Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” (also known, as Britten prefered it, “Variations and Theme on a Theme of Purcell) which opened the concert, and Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber” at the end.
The Britten is a brilliant work, originally written for a documentary on the instruments of the orchestra, but it rapidly earned a following in its own right. The young musicians played with gusto under music director Stephen Rogers Radcliffe and it was narrated by KUOW host, SYSO alumnus and past board president Dave Beck. There were times towards the end when I felt Radcliffe was taking it too fast, the net effect being a bit scrambling and making it hard to hear the individual voices.
Violinist Vincenti is 16, a junior at Inglemore High School who has already received several awards both musical and otherwise. This girl has already achieved a quality to her playing many violinists would give their eyeteeth to attain: a rich, singing tone on her lower strings. It caught the ear the minute she began to play the opening measures of the concerto, a honeyed sound which bloomed. She maintained this apparently effortlessly throughout the work, encompassing the work’s difficulties with ease, and imparting its essence to the audience. Occasionally the harmonics sounded a tad flat, and there were one or two other moments when she was slightly off the note, but they were few. Vincenti is a musician who could well have a future.
Radcliffe kept the orchestra sounding full yet never drowning out Vincenti, a feat when one considers there were 76 young string players onstage beside her.
There were far fewer on stage for the Mozart. Radcliffe pared the orchestra down to 29 players only. Roidl-Ward is another excellent musician, playing with style and expressiveness this charming concerto which makes full use of all the instrument’s registers and capabilities. I particularly liked his sense of phrasing in the cadenzas.
Both these two wrote their own program notes also, and the other notes were written likewise by orchestra members. As such they were well researched, well written and informative.
The concert ended with a fine performance of Hindemith’s “Metamorphosis.,” an apt choice as bookend with the Britten, each building imaginatively on the themes of earlier composers. Like the Britten the low brass had prominent roles here and the five trombones and two tubas (a generous-sized section only a few full-sized orchestras can afford these days) made the most of their moments in the limelight. Flute soloist Sho Kato deserves mention for some fine work.