Vancouver Symphony spotlights young artists

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For its last concert of its season, the Vancouver Symphony will show off the winners of its 16th annual young artists competition, which was held in early March.

Putting on this concert had its own set of challenges for the symphony.

The young artists winners were initially to be featured in an April concert, but that program was scrapped because of the symphony’s financial difficulties. The orchestra then mounted a successful funding campaign to raise $20,000 to hold this concert, which will close out the season.

This year 44 contestants vied for top honors and $1,000 cash scholarships in three categories. Pianist Fred Lu won the keyboard category. Violinist Natally Okhovat won in the strings competition and alto saxophonist Daniel Vasey took the top prize in the brass/woodwinds/percussion arena.

Lu is a 16-year-old sophomore at Skyview High School. He began taking piano lessons when he was 4 years old and currently studies with Jean-David Coen, a Portland-based pianist who is on the music faculty of Willamette University in Salem, Ore. Last year, Lu was selected as a winner of MetroArts Young Artists Debut and performed Franz Liszt’s “First Piano Concerto” with an orchestra drawn from the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra and the Oregon Symphony.

For his debut with the Vancouver Symphony, Lu will perform the first movement from Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.”

“Rachmaninoff is one of my favorite composers,” said Lu. “His music is very emotional, and it always has a good melody and development. This concerto has a really big opening with lots of octaves and big chords. It’s a great piece.”

Lu has been working on the piece since December. He practices about an hour every day on a Steinway grand in his family’s home in Vancouver.

Natally Okhovat, a 17-year-old junior at West Linn High School in Oregon, will perform the “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” by Camille Saint-Saëns. Okhovat started her violin studies at age 4 and took lessons from Vancouver Symphony violist Brenda Liu. For the past 10 years, Okhovat has studied with Carol Sindell, who teaches at Portland State University.

If you go

• What: Vancouver Symphony presents a concert with the winners of its young artists competition featuring music by Johann Strauss II and Richard Strauss.

• When: 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Skyview High School’s concert hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

• Cost: $42 for reserved seats, $29 for general admission, $24 for seniors and $9 for students.

• Information: 360-735-7278 or visit here.

“The Saint-Saëns piece is my favorite,” Okhovat said. “I really love its contrasts in styles. It has a lot of flashy technique, and it’s very romantic. I like fast pieces, and this one is pretty fast.”

Okhovat also serves as the concertmaster of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and because she won that orchestra’s concerto competition, she got to play the “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” with the Portland Youth Philharmonic in March.

“Now I feel more comfortable with the Saint-Saëns” Okhovat said. “So, I would like to take more risks and become more expressive in my phrasings when I play it with the Vancouver Symphony.”

‘Cooler instrument’

This will be the first time that Daniel Vasey has played with an orchestra. Vasey is a 15-year-old sophomore at Columbia River High School in Vancouver. He has played the alto saxophone for four years and studies with John Gibson, who lives in Vancouver.

“I started with the clarinet, but switched to the saxophone because, for me, it’s a cooler instrument,” Vasey said.

Vasey will play the third movement from “Escapades,” by John Williams. “Escapades” is a medley from the soundtrack that Williams wrote for the 2002 film “Catch Me If You Can.” Vasey has been practicing two hours every other day on the piece, which was recommended to him by Gibson.

“‘Escapades’ is a fast and technically challenging piece,” added Vasey, “because you have to articulate the notes while playing them quickly. I still have to see the movie one of these days.”

The concert, to be performed under the baton of its music director Salvador Brotons, will open with three pieces by the Johann Strauss Jr. Two of the pieces are light and fluffy: the “Tritsch-Tratsch Polka” (“Chit-Chat Polka”) and the “Auf der Jagd Polka” (“Hunting Polka”). The third piece is the elegant and beloved waltz, “An der schönen blauen Donau” (“On The Beautiful Blue Danube”).

The orchestra will end the concert with the great tone poem “Tod under VerKlärung” (“Death and Transfiguration”) by Richard Strauss. This piece, scheduled more than a year ago, seems to be the perfect fit for an orchestra that has found new life.