Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Young Artists Symphony Orchestra “Resurrected” at Debut

YASO, Angeles Chorale, soloists in Mahler at UCLA Royce Hall. [All photos: David Johnston]

Review by Rodney Punt

Five months ago it didn’t even exist. Yet with the inaugural concert of its first season last Sunday at UCLA’s Royce Hall, the Young Artists Symphony Orchestra (YASO) became not only the newest musical ensemble in town, but also a musical force to be reckoned with.

Alexander Treger conducting
The brainchild of Alexander Treger, an icon of the Los Angeles musical scene who serves as its Artistic Director, the YASO’s mission is to mentor the next generation of young musicians (ages 15-26) for professional careers in orchestras and ensembles around the world. A host of local citizens comprise its new board of directors, led by Ellen Whittier who has known and admired Treger for years.

A single work was on the inaugural program, Mahler’s massive “Resurrection” Symphony No. 2 in C minor. Tackling such a work at its first outing signaled there would be nothing timid or tentative about the orchestra’s artistic ambitions. The symphony is one of the longest and most difficult in the repertoire, with its orchestra augmented, as was Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, by a chorus and vocal soloists. 

Dramatically enhanced by poetry from the Romantic era, the work takes the human soul on a psychoanalytic quest (you could call it musical "scream-therapy") from a funeral of haunted memories, through disillusionment and despair, to an ecstatic affirmation of a life resurrected in heavenly bliss. It was just the sort of thing to animate youthful enthusiasms, and in this instance it set them afire.

Arrayed to the very last inch across the breadth of the stage, the massed forces seemed a musical equivalent to the likes of a Normandy invasion. A pre-concert announcement had proclaimed the combined performers -- 104 musicians, 100 choral singers, two vocal soloists and conductor -- to be the largest grouping ever assembled on the stage of Royce Hall. With the rich history of music programs at UCLA, it was a declaration to ponder. The ensuing sonic catharsis, a fortunate combination of youthful orchestral vigor and mature vocals, quaked Royce’s storied acoustic from its depths to its rafters.

Given the first movement’s already sweeping rhetoric (at one point it was actually a separate tone poem), Treger emphasized balance and control over fussy details. He would pay more attention to the expressive byways of the next two movements, a memory-laden Ländler and a sardonic scherzo. Niké St. Clair’s velvet mezzo led the way out of the existential crisis in the Urlicht (Primal Light) fourth movement; its text, excerpted from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, is a plea for heaven. In the long fifth movement's catharsis, the mature-voiced Angeles Chorale (John Sutton, Artistic Director) reinforced soprano Amanda Achen’s sweet assurances in a hybrid poem based on a Klopstock stanza extensively amended by Mahler himself.

Overall a stunning achievement, the performance was all the more remarkable given it was a first for this orchestra. With a nod to the current baseball season, the YASO hit one out of the park with its first at bat.

YASO cello section

WHAT: Inaugural Performance of the Young Artists Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Treger, Artistic Director & Conductor
Amanda Achen, Soprano, Niké St. Clair, Mezzo-Soprano
Angeles Chorale, John Sutton, Artistic Director

WHEN/WHERE: Sunday, October 11, 2015, 7 pm at UCLA Royce Hall, Los Angeles

PROGRAM: GUSTAV MAHLER, Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”)

FUTURE PROGRAMS: During its 2015-16 season, YASO will present three other free concerts at Royce Hall on Sunday, December 6, 2015, Sunday, February 28, 2016, and Saturday, April 23, 2016. Featured repertoire will include Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7, Lutoslawski’s Little Suite, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll
, and John Adams’ The Chairman Dances.

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