Written on June 14, 2011 – 2:31 am | by Cameron Hussey
It’s a virtual certainty that many of those full-grown musicians playing their hearts out with panache and precision from their chairs in the fine orchestras and chamber groups we have around here were once burgeoning talents polishing their adolescent skills in youth ensembles.
And it’s no surprise that the Bay Area is replete with orchestras, both school and community-based, dedicated to the development of such young players. What is rather amazing, however, is that so many of them have chosen to showcase their talents in special springtime concerts this weekend.
Certainly, the luckiest of them has got to be the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, now in its 76th year — the youth orchestra with the longest history in California. Though based in Berkeley, YPSO culls its 101 musicians, ages 12 to 21, from 28 Bay Area cities in six counties.
They have special bragging rights this weekend because they have enlisted a real superstar, Alameda mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, to be the main attraction at their benefit concert and silent auction, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Von Stade, 65, announced her impending retirement nearly two years ago and has been traipsing around the country making farewell appearances at many of the famous stages where she has appeared. But it is doubtful that the big-hearted “Flicka,” as she is widely known, will ever fully step down from her volunteer commitments, for which she is almost as warmly regarded as for her superb voice and consummate stage skills.
Von Stade and YPSO conductor David Ramadanoff have chosen an 11-song program that spans three centuries and includes works by Gustav Mahler, Joseph Canteloube and von Stade’s friend and frequent collaborator, S.F. composer Jake Heggie, who wrote a primary role especially for her in his opera “Dead Man Walking.”
In addition to accompanying her, the orchestra will play the Overture to Rossini’s “Semiramide,” the Intermezzo from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and Ravel’s “LaValse.” This promises to be a richly rewarding musical program with perhaps one of the last chances to catch the Bay Area’s best-beloved mezzo in performance. Tickets, at $15 for seniors and students, $25 general and $50 VIP, are at 510-849-9776 and www.ypsomusic.net.
THIRTY YEARS ON: The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra may not yet have three quarters of a century behind it, but it is a prestigious outfit attached to a world-class orchestra, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary at 2 p.m. Sunday with a challenging program in Davies Hall. Led by music director Donato Cabrero, S.F. Symphony resident conductor, the orchestra will play Bartok’s vigorous Divertimento for Strings and Gustav Holst’s famous suite “The Planets,” with the ethereal fade-out of women’s voices in the “Neptune” section provided by the women of the Chamber Singers and University Chorus of San Francisco State.
Reasons to admire the SFSYO are many and multiform. This is one of just a few youth ensembles countrywide to be directly under the administration of a major symphony orchestra, which gives its 100-plus young players incredibly valuable opportunities to work directly with Michael Tilson Thomas, the professional players and many of the stellar solo artists who come to town to collaborate.
It also is an enabling factor for sending out orchestra members as musical ambassadors, and they will be making their ninth European tour later this summer. All of this experience is provided tuition-free, so every young player chosen to participate is in the orchestra because of superior talent already demonstrated.
MTT, Cabrero, several S.F. Symphony musicians and guest artists Yo-Yo Ma and Sir Simon Rattle have made a thoroughly engaging video, enthusing about their work with the youth orchestra. Find it with the online version of this column at www.ContraCostaTimes.com or www.InsideBayArea.com.
Tickets to Sunday’s concert at 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, are $12 general, $45 reserved at 415-864-6000 and www.sfsymphony.org.
A WORLD PREMIERE: The 47-year-old Oakland Youth Orchestra has long been associated with the Oakland East Bay Symphony, but the ties were made formal in 2009 with them both reorganized, along with the Oakland Symphony Chorus, under the East Bay Performing Arts umbrella. The 75 musicians, ages 12-22, come from around the East Bay and their maestro is Bryan Nies, assistant OEBS conductor.
You can hear them in a free performance at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive in Oakland. And there is a special treat on the program. South Bay-based Mexican-American composer Hector Armienta’s “Postcards From Mexico,” an OYO commission, will be given its premiere at the concert, with some Oakland public school children participating in the performance. Also on the program is the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 and the 2010 OYO Concerto Competition winner, Celia Chung, playing the first movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto.
Don’t miss the chance to see your idols live on the stage, get online fast cash and go for autographs.
SINGING STRINGS: Two other more specialized youth ensembles are also featured in concert this weekend. The Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, based in Berkeley for more than 25 years, will have two of its three subsets — the all-strings Preparatory Ensemble and the older string players in the Chamber Orchestra — performing for free at noon Saturday at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley. And across the Bay, the 10 members of the Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble, ages 9 to 18, will play a “Music From Around the World” concert with the Triskela Celtic harp trio and percussionist Teed Rockwell as guest artists, at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1111 Gough St., at Geary Boulevard, San Francisco. A suggested donation of $10-$20 will be taken at the door beginning 30 minutes before the concert. For more information, .
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