Youth winners featured at Vancouver Symphony concert

Celebrated violinist, flutist, pianist will solo at concert

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If you go

 What: Gold Medalists from the Young Artist Competition take the spotlight.

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

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

 Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $37 for general admission, $32 for seniors and $10 for students.

In an age that diverts our already short attention spans with all sorts of distractions, it wonderful to know that there are still kids who spend years mastering an instrument and learn how to play complex music.

That includes the three very talented musicians who will take center stage at this weekend’s Vancouver Symphony concert. They are the gold medal winners of the Vancouver Symphony’s annual Young Artists Competition. Each of them received $1,000 and the opportunity to solo with the orchestra.

One of the winners, Symphony Koss, is a 16-year-old sophomore at Columbia River High School. She began playing the violin when she was 3 years old, but didn’t get serious about it until she was 5. Now she is the co-principal second violinist of Portland Youth Philharmonic, studies with Kathryn Gray, and tries to practice two hours a day.

Koss has been a featured soloist with the Jewish Community Orchestra and in Young Artist Debut concert. She has won several competitions and served as concertmaster for her school orchestra, the Washington Junior All-State Orchestra, and the Interlochen World Youth Symphony Orchestra.

For the Vancouver Symphony concert, she will play Pablo de Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy,” which is based on themes from the opera “Carmen.”

“The piece has so much personality, and I love that,” Koss said. “The last movement is filled with tricky stuff like double stops and is really fast. The music has a lot of emotion that is wrapped around her personality. You can hear what is happening through the music. Just try to imagine what is happening.”

Another talented 16-year-old who will be in the spotlight is Ashley Teng, a sophomore at Camas High School. Teng has studied flute for the past seven years and is the co-principal flutist with the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Her teacher is Dr. Sydney Carlson, a professor at Portland State University.

“I started with piano at the age of 5,” Teng said. “When I was 9 or 10, I heard my mom’s friend play the flute, and I totally fell in love with the sound. I really wanted to try it — plus, it was shiny!”

Teng will perform the first movement from Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, a terrific piece that may be unfamiliar to many in the audience.

“The Nielson piece goes all over the place,” explained Teng. “It starts out very bold. There are a lot of slow parts as well, including slow cadenzas. My favorite thing about this piece is all of the little interactions between the soloist and the orchestra. The soloist and the clarinetist exchange short phrases back and forth.”

Teng practices one to two hours every day. This will be her second appearance with an orchestra. In March, she performed Mozart’s Flute Concerto with the Oregon Sinfonietta.

Pianist Trevor Natuik will also make his debut with the Vancouver Symphony. Natuik is a 17-year-old junior at the Columbia Adventist Academy in Battle Ground. Natuik has studied piano for the past 11 years, and his regular teacher is Barbara Roberts. But for the concert, he is being coached by Dr. Renato Fabbro, who teaches at the University of Portland. That’s because Natuik will perform the first movement from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto.

“I like to play his Rachmaninoff’s music, and I have the hands for it,” said Natuik. “You need more than an octave stretch. There’s a point in this piece where it is an octave and three extra notes.”

Natuik spends at least an hour every day at the keyboard. He loves Romantic music like Rachmaninoff’s, because its emotive qualities allow him a great range of expression.

“Rachmaninoff’s concerto has a lot of complex harmonies,” he added, “but there is one underlying melody. It comes in pretty quickly and reoccurs throughout the piece. People will recognize it right away.”

Audience members can also enjoy the two orchestra-only works: Edvard Grieg’s “Lyric Suite” and Ottorino Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome.” The “Lyric Suite” is an orchestration of piano pieces that Grieg had written earlier. Each has an evocative title, such as “Shepherd Boy,” Norwegian March,” “Nocturne,” and “March of the Dwarfs.” With a little imagination, it will be easy for listeners to picture scenes from the northlands of Europe.

In “The Pines of Rome,” Respighi paints a musical portrait of four places were stately pine trees accent the city’s landscape. The orchestra can use a large palette of tonal colors to depict children at play, solemn, ancient chants, a placid night under the full moon, and the march of Roman soldiers along the Appian Way. The big canvas of sound in this piece has made it one of the most popular orchestral works of the 12th Century.

Returning to the young artists, this year marks the first time that all of the gold medalists come from Clark County. In the competition, they cleared hurdles that began with a blind judging of submitted recordings, in which names and other relevant information were removed, and ended with performances in front of a live audience with a panel of experts. It’s encouraging to know that young people can shut out distractions and focus their minds. That’s great news for serious music.