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VSO concert to feature competition winners, ‘The Planets’

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The second half of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert this weekend will offer a galactic exploration with a NASA-inspired video that will accompany the orchestra as it plays Gustav Holst's "The Planets." (iStock photo)
The second half of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert this weekend will offer a galactic exploration with a NASA-inspired video that will accompany the orchestra as it plays Gustav Holst's "The Planets." (iStock photo) Photo Gallery

For its final concert of the season, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will focus on the future in two different ways.

The first half of the program will put the spotlight on youth, with the three gold medal winners of the orchestra’s annual Young Artists Competition. The second half will offer a galactic exploration with a NASA-inspired video that will accompany the orchestra as it plays Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”

Now in its 24th year, the Young Artists Competition continues to attract top-tier participants from Oregon and Washington. This year’s competition drew more than 60 young musicians, who vied for the chance to win $1,000 and an appearance with the Vancouver Symphony. Three winners were chosen from the nine finalists who performed in February at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Violinist Evan Llafet, a 17-year-old junior at Mountain View High School, won a gold medal in the strings category. He will play the first movement from William Walton’s Violin Concerto.

“Walton’s Violin Concerto has a really beautiful orchestration,” said Llafet. “The soloist part is pretty challenging with some very high notes. A large part of the first movement is very lyrical, and there are some difficult technical passages. It’s a dark and stormy piece that reflects different emotions.”

If You Go

What: Young artist winners perform, and Holst’s “The Planets” accompanied by video extravaganza.

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, $38 for general admission, $34 for seniors and $10 for students.

Llafet studies violin with Carol Sindell and is the co-principal second violinist with the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

“I started playing violin when I was seven and was pretty terrible for a while because I didn’t practice. So I had to catch up to my peers in the PYP. ”

He will finish his senior year at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and intends to also study voice at the University of Southern California.

Violist Shania Watts also won a gold medal in the strings category. Watts plays with the Clark College Orchestra and is participating in the Running Start program at Clark College. She is 18 years old and has been taking lessons from Brian Quincey for the past five years.

“I started with the violin for a few years, and my parents thought of the viola as an experiment,” said Watts. “I fell in love with the rich tone of the viola and the repertoire.”

Watts will play the first movement of Walton’s Viola Concerto in the orchestra concert.

“I’ve been playing the Walton Viola Concerto for a long time,” said Watts. “It’s a beautiful piece. The first movements of most concertos are lively, fast and exciting, while this one is somber and melancholy. I like to get into the colors of the viola sound. By colors I mean emotions, such as the darker side when I go to the lower range. It can sound sorrowful sometimes and really touch the soul.”

Watts intends to pursue viola studies at a conservatory or in college. Meanwhile, she enjoys playing with siblings Darah and Jonathan in 300 Watts Trio.

Winning the gold medal in the piano category was Christopher Yoon, an 18-year-old senior at Westview High School in Portland. He started on the piano when he was 5 years old. For the past four years, he has studied with Dr. Renato Fabbro.

Yoon will perform Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the orchestra.

“Liszt is one of my favorite composers,” remarked Yoon. “His first concerto is only 18 minutes long, but it all has a great dynamic range. So it gives you the full concerto experience. I played it with the Central Oregon Symphony in February.”

In addition to his talent at the keyboard, Yoon also plays the cello and is finishing his final season with the Portland Youth Philharmonic. When asked how he balances his two favorite instruments, he replied, “I have to prioritize my practicing. I usually do two hours a day with the piano and have to find time for the cello.”

In the fall, Yoon will go to Oregon State University, where he plans to major in bio-engineering and minor in music.

After intermission, the orchestra will play “The Planets,” which was a hit when it was first performed in 1918 and remains Holst’s most popular work. Written for a full-size orchestra, the piece has seven movements, each named after a planet. Because of his interest in astrology, Holst also included the astrological character of the planet. For example, the first movement is “Mars, the Bringer of War,” and the second is “Venus, the Bringer of Peace.”

The evocative music will be visually accompanied by projected imagery from the “Voyage of Discovery 2” to take you on a journey through the galaxy. According to the film’s website (ThePlanetPerformance.com), the video sequences include NASA simulations, animations and actual photography of the planets. The combined audio and visual experience promises to be a great way for the orchestra and its music director, Salvador Brotons, to wrap up the season.

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