Sunday, January 14, 2024

concert review: Bay Area Youth Orchestra Festival

I saw an article touting this, and thought it'd be enjoyable. No fewer than five local youth orchestras - high school students, but of professional caliber - exist in this area (the specific districts they draw from are somewhat different but overlap), and all of them come together for a biennial concert at Davies, home of the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra as well as the professional ensemble. Each orchestra plays a work, 10-15 minutes long, and then selected players from all five groups play a sixth work.

As a work to be suitable for this needs to employ extensively the full orchestra, including brass and percussion, the selections were agreeably colorful. We had the Overture to The Wasps by Vaughan Williams, a dance from The Three-Cornered Hat by de Falla, a dance suite from West Side Story by Bernstein, Umoja: Anthem of Unity by Valerie Coleman (which I'd just heard at a New Millennium concert), the finale from Tchaikovsky's Fourth, and - for the grand finale - Márquez's Danzón No. 2. All pieces known to me and which I was happy to hear again, played with dedication and very few flubs if rather flat interpretation.

After each piece the musicians of that orchestra would exit the stage (reappearing in the balcony behind to hear their fellows play) and, while things were set up for the next one, an emcee (a retired local tv news anchor) interviewed the conductor of the next ensemble. All the conductors were male, although the orchestra managers (unseen, but cited by name for a round of applause at the end) were mostly female.

The students were a thorough mix of genders. Ethnically the vast majority were of East Asian descent: some whites, a few South Asians, a few Hispanics, but as far as I could see not a single Black (not counting the composer Coleman, who is Black but didn't make a personal appearance).

The audience was packed, probably mostly with family members of the players, but there must have been a few other unaffiliated music-lovers like myself.

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