Symphony puts youth in spotlight

Weekend concert will also feature women’s choir

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If you go

• What: Vancouver Symphony concert with young artist winners, Willamette University’s Voce Femminile women’s choir, sopranos Christine Welch Elder and Barbara Choltco, and radio personality Edmund Stone.

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

• Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

• Cost: $48 for reserved seats, $33 for general admission, $27 for seniors and $10 for students.

• Information: 360-735-7278 or visit http://vancouversymphony.org.

Every year, the Vancouver Symphony performs a concert that features the winners of its young artist contest. This year the orchestra will offer center stage to two young winners: Angela Tang and Ik Hoon Jung. Tang, winner of the strings competition, will play the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Jung, winner of the keyboard competition, will play the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto.

Tang is a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Athey Creek Middle School in West Linn, Ore. She started playing violin seven years ago, and now practices two or three hours every day. She is the associate concertmaster of the Portland Youth Philharmonic and takes lessons from Carol Sindell.

“I love Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto,” Tang said. “It is so beautiful and exciting to play. I love it because the music isn’t all calm. Sometimes you have a beautiful melody but the next moment it starts to speed up and grow bigger and bigger and then becomes a brilliant passage. There are plenty of places for me to phrase it and add my own style.”

Jung is a 15-year-old freshman at Southridge High School in Beaverton, Ore., where he also competes on the swim team and participates in speech and debate. For the past six months, he has been working on the Prokofiev piece, which was suggested to him by his teacher, Linda Barker.

“It’s fast and exciting, and the middle section, which is slow, is very beautiful,” Jung said. “One of the fast passages has a lot of broken octaves for both hands and that requires a lot of crosshand playing and a lot of practice.”

Staying on the youthful side of the ledger, it’s difficult to comprehend how anyone could write a brilliant symphonic overture at the age of 17, but that’s what Mendelssohn did in 1826 after becoming inspired by Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Then, at the ripe age of 32 he added incidental music, including the famous “Wedding March.”

It is this complete, 60-minute version that the Vancouver Symphony will perform with Willamette University’s Voce Femminile Choir, soprano soloists Christine Welch Elder and Barbara Choltco, and All Classical FM (89.9) personality Edmund Stone.

“All of the women, including the soprano soloists, represent the fairies in the story,” explained Welch Elder, who is also conductor of Voce Femminile. “Part of my lines deal with banishing the spells or harms that might come in the night so that they do no harm. It’s very Shakespearean. The music has an ephemeral quality, so that we all get to pretend together.”

Welch Elder said the 30 voices of her women’s choir are excited about the opportunity to sing with the orchestra. Members of Vancouver’s First Presbyterian Church are providing housing and meals for the choir over the weekend.

This concert will mark Stone’s third appearance with the Vancouver Symphony. Trained as a Shakespearean actor in England, Stone relishes the thought of narrating the fanciful story within the Bard’s words.

“Since the narrator has to do Oberon, Puck, Lysander, Titania, Bottom, and other characters, the big temptation is to do different voices,” said Stone. “But I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Judy Dench in her famous recording doesn’t change voices for the characters, and I find that quite right. When I do the last act of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, then I change my voice for each character. It’s a very emotional piece. But with Midsummer Night’s Dream, you have to do Shakespeare straight and let the words and music carry it. You must know Shakespeare and know how to deliver Shakespeare. You must know how to deliver emotion, questions, responses, anger and mischief. Changing voices would make that too confusing for the audience.”

The Vancouver Symphony will also play Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 5. Entitled the “Sinfonia Sacra,” this symphonic work has three sections that are compressed into a single movement. It had its premiere in 1955 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy.

Although the entire piece is only 15 minutes in length, it’s packed with musical content. Hanson said that the “Sinfonia Sacra” was inspired by the story of Christ’s resurrection as described in the Gospel of St. John. He added that the music tries to invoke an atmosphere of tragedy and triumph. It seems to be a very well-matched bridge between the young artists on the front part of the program and the fanciful Mendelssohn piece at the end.