January 15, 2012, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
The Young Musicians Foundation’s Debut Orchestra Conducted by Richard Kaufman, Teddy Abrams, Michael Tilson Thomas, Joey Newman and JOHN WILLIAMS
“57th Anniversary Gala Concert and Dinner”
- Conducted by Richard Kaufman:
SMETANA: Dance of the Comedians, from The Bartered Bride
WALTON: Galop Final, from Music of the Children
- Conducted by Teddy Abrams:
BEETHOVEN: Third Movement (Rondo), from Piano Concerto No. 1 (Ray Ushikobo, age 10, piano soloist)
COPLAND: Fanfare for the Common Man
- Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas:
RAVEL: La Valse
- Conducted by Joey Newman:
R. NEWMAN: Suite, from Toy Story
- Conducted by John Williams:
WILLIAMS: The Adventure Continues, from The Adventures of Tintin
WILLIAMS: Selection, from War Horse
WILLIAMS: Adventures on Earth, from E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial
WILLIAMS: The Imperial March, from The Empire Strikes Back (encore)
Concert Review by ‘KingPin’
Overall, the concert was a very technically challenging program. Aside from the War Horse selection, every piece performed seemed to required some athletics and stamina from the performers. The Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra played exceptionally well, so much so that had I been blindfolded, my highly trained ear would not have been able to tell the difference between the YMF players and a world-class symphony orchestra. Intonation was near impeccable (except in one minor case, detailed below). This was my first time attending a performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and I must say that the acoustics were very good.
The Smetana piece has always been one of my all-time favorite orchestral works. Full of comic energy and light-heartedness, the woodwinds and strings handled the technical passages like pros. Always a fun way to open a concert.
The Walton piece was a piece I was not familiar with prior to the concert, but after hearing it for the first time, I’m now resolved to find a good recording of it. The piece was loaded with a jaunty rhythms and heroic themes, perfectly executed by the YMF.
The Beethoven movement was a real treat, mainly because the soloist was only 10 years old, yet he had more poise than I suspect many adults would have. I was amazed at how expressive he played the rhythm-driven Rondo for his age, and he was certainly no technical slouch either. He nailed every note with a certain dignity and finesse. It was 100% evident that he truly felt the music and had a passion for what he was performing. He sort of looked like a miniature clone of Lang Lang. Easily one of the major highlights of the evening.
I must admit, I’m usually a sucker for Fanfare for the Common Man, but for some reason the piece just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the program. Whereas the majority of the selections were fast, rhythmic pieces that utilized the entire orchestra to the fullest extent, this piece (as many of you probably are aware) featured only brass and percussion, and relies on broad legato chords to carry it thematically. It was a chance for the woodwinds and strings to get their only real break in the concert, but the brass certainly had their work cut out for them, and it showed. Although it was still performed well, this was the most flawed performance on the night. The percussion was way too loud in my opinion, and the brass, probably already feeling some exhaust from the preceding portion of the concert, was struggling in some areas to reach the high notes. There were a few cracked notes and a few chords that started with shaky intonation, although the players were quickly able to fix these issues.
Ravel’s La Valse was, in my opinion, the most challenging piece of the night, and definitely one of the most intense and exciting. I relished the opportunity to hear it, primarily because it was my first time seeing San Francisco Symphony, New World Symphony, and former London Symphony Orchestra conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, conduct live. Another stirring highlight of the concert, the demanding piece was played perfectly and expertly.
The last “block” of the concert (there was no intermission) was dedicated to film music, and the first selection was from Randy Newman’s score to Toy Story, conducted by Joey Newman, cousin to Randy and an accomplished composer in his own right. I’m not familiar ebough with the score to be able to tell you which excerpts were included in the suite, but the piece was played with spirit and precision – a truly fun piece to listen to. The players looked like they were having fun too. After the piece ended, Joey Newman got on the microphone to tell an anecdote of how Williams flew from Boston to LA in order to attend Newman’s wedding reception. According to Newman, Williams landed that day and got to the reception, but Newman and his bride were late to the reception and managed to only get a quick hello with Williams, after which Williams had to leave on a flight back to Boston that night to resume his duties with the Boston Pops. It was a warm, yet slightly awkward (Newman had sort of a nervousness on the microphone), introduction to Williams, who immediately took the stage.
The program did not list the specific titles of the Williams selections, only the films from which they were extracted from. Much to my own delight, the Williams segment opened with The Adventure Continues, one of my personal favorite tracks from the Tintin album. The orchestra maintained the level of energy and technical expertise as on the soundtrack album, and I was particularly pleased that the audience refrained from clapping after the multiple trick endings (not surprising considering the audience consisted mainly of parents of classically trained music students and other music professionals, so they clearly understood proper concert etiquette).
War Horse was next, featuring some of the most beautiful flute playing I’ve ever heard. The soloist had a crisp, clean tone, seamlessly moving between registers without a break in the tone, and unbelievable expression and intonation. I’m not as familiar with this score as I am withTintin, but I’ve listened to it enough times to recognize the different thematic motifs, of which the concert selection incorporated many of them. It sounded like Williams combined the Dartmoor, 1912 and The Homecoming tracks to create a single concert presentation, with the flute solo part expanded in some parts, including an extended cadenza. The lush melodies were sweeping in the acoustics of the hall, and I’m certain that it brought my friend’s wife, who was sitting next to me, very close to tears (she has yet to see the film but she’s rumored to have cried at the trailer alone).
Adventures on Earth was standard fare, again performed with precision and energy by the orchestra. A classic way for Williams to close a concert – so classic that Williams didn’t even bother to open the conductor score.
To everyone’s surprise, Williams returned to the stage for an encore, The Imperial March. This provoked many cheers in the audience naturally, and the tempo was much faster than usual, especially surprising considering the orchestra was comprised of youth players. Then again, it they were able to tackle the high demands of the rest of the evening’s program, why I should be surprised that they wouldn’t be able to handle a faster rendition of this piece, I have no clue. A rousing end to an overall outstanding evening.