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Live in Santiago Chile

Jason M. Rubin


The New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra's Triumphant
Return to South America



"Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched
with fire."

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1884)


In 1993, the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra became the
first American orchestra to tour Chile since the New York Philharmonic's visit
in 1984. The NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra's 1993 seven-city, nine-concert
engagement played to more than 20,000 people, and received immense critical
acclaim. It was the subject of two public television programs, and produced a
CD. Perhaps the surest sign of the YPO's success, however, was an invitation to
return in June 1995.


The finest concert halls


This year, the YPO was invited back to perform in a series of three
subscription concerts at the Teatro Municipal in Santiago, Chile, a venue and
subscription series that had presented the likes of the Philadelphia Orchestra
and the Israeli Philharmonic. Not to be outdone, Argentina hosted the YPO at the
Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, considered one of the top five concert halls in
the world. In the words of YYO music director, Benjamin Zander, "It is a
privilege for any musician to play there. There is no musician who does not feel
awe for the Teatro Colon." In all, the YPO played a grueling schedule of 11
concerts in two countries in 14 days.


How does it happen that an orchestra whose members are 72 to 18 years of age
becomes so admired that it is invited to occupy the same stages

as major international stars like Luciano Pavarotti and Liza Minelli?
"Children are a wonderful vehicle," explains Zander, "because
they pour so much passion into the music. They don't hold anything back. And the
audience gets the message. It's exciting to watch them, to feel what they are
feeling."


Passion


In how many pursuits are both the young and the mature capable of comparable
achievement? In most sports, age provides much-needed strength, size, and
experience. In academia, time affords increased opportunities to learn, to
ponder, and ultimately to understand. In life itself, wisdom can be thought to
be directly proportional to longevity. It is in music, however, that both
children and adults have access to excellence.



In music, the great equalizer is passion. It is the force that sparks
discovery, that refuses to recognize routines, that knows only a willingness to
serve. It is passion that touched audiences so deeply during the New England
Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra's recent tour of Chile and Argentina.


Highlight of the tour


In addition to the Teatro Colon, the highlight of the tour, according to
Zander, was the final concert. Held at arena-sized Luna Park in Buenos Aires for
nearly 5,000 people, the concert saw a pairing of the YPO with the local youth
orchestra during the opening selection, Beethoven's Coriolan Overture. Zander
recalls, "There were 180 musicians on stage and we'd had only 20 minutes to
rehearse. The first note of the Coriolan was overwhelming, titanic ...and
wonderful! Each concert, it seemed, had been better than the one prior, and
there we were on the last night, and it was by far the best concert we had
given." Two thirds of the way through the tour, HaeSun Paik, soloist for
Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto 1, had to leave for her West Coast debut in Los
Angeles. During the two concerts she missed, YPO member Wendy Law performed
Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1. The encores were Sousa's Stars and Stripes
Forever and Nimod from Elgar's Enigma Variations.


As with the 1993 tour, this year's odyssey will be chronicled in a television
program to be aired internationally. Those that will soon graduate from high
school to continue their musical training or go on to other interests will no
longer be children, from whom passion flows so easily. But, as Zander taught in
a master class in Rosario, Argentina, "Never a door closes but another one
opens." With hearts touched by fire, and nurtured by the members of age,
they will always remember the magic they shared with the people of South
America.


by Jason M. Rubin





HAESUN PAIK PIANIST

In 1980, 15-year-old HaeSun Paik, a student at the New England Conservatory
at Walnut Hill School, a boarding school for the training of gifted young
musicians, made her debut with the NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra on its first
international tour, to the Soviet Union. She played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto
No. 1.


Since then, Korean-born Paik has received acclaim from audiences and critics
alike for her stunning virtuosity and subtle musicianship in performances with
many leading orchestras including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the National
Symphony with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
with Simon Rattle, the Warsaw Philharmonic with Kazimierz Kord, and the Moscow
State Philharmonic Orchestra. She has appeared in recital in New York at Alice
Tully Hall, in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center, and also in Brussels,
Luxembourg, and Moscow, as well as throughout Korea. She made her West Coast
debut with a recital in Los Angeles in June 1995.


Paik was the first grand prize winner in three years at the William Kapell
International Piano Competition in 1989. Her many prizes and awards also include
a Bronze Medal in the 1994 Tchaikovsky Competition and a Silver Medal in the
Queen Elisabeth International Competition in 1991. She studied with Wha Kung
Byun and Russell Sherman at New England Conservatory where she earned the Artist
Diploma.


Paik recently joined the faculty of the Seoul National University in Korea
and continues to concertize around the world.



"HueSun Paik...played the First Tchaikovsky Concerto with sensitivity,
imagination, precision and taste...


"Her thundering octaves, for example, are top class: but the best news
is that Paiks performance was not about octaves, it was about the whole message
of the concerto.


"Paik's performance and Zander and the Youth Philharmonic were careful
to balance brilliance with finish of detail and even the wonderful power of
restraint. "

Richard Dyer, Boston Globe





ANTONIN DVORAK (1841-1904)

Symphony No. 9

in E Minor, Op. 95

(From the New World)


In 1892 Dvorak moved to New York to become the head of the National
Conservatory of Music of America Famous for bringing Czech folk music into the
concert hall, he urged American composers to do likewise with the music of their
own heritage. America's peculiar status as a nation of immigrants made this
problematic, however; just what was its own heritage' Dvorak emphasized
non-European strands in the American tapestry, first arguing that "the
future music of this country must be founded upon what are called the Negro
melodies," and later including American Indian music as well.


During his three years at the Conservatory, Dvorak himself composed a series
of pieces inspired by his new home, including the Symphony No. 9, "From the
New World." The symphony was a great success at its premiere in 1893 and
remains his most popular work today. Dvorak said that it drew upon his Study of
American Indian music: "I have not actually used any of the melodies. I
have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian
music." He added that the second movement was a sketch for a planned opera
or cantata based on Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha," and that the
third movement was also suggested by that poem.



Later critics have discerned other sources. The second theme of the first
movement resembles the spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which
Dvorak heard from a black student at the Conservatory. Czech scholars, in
contrast, have argued that the symphony is thoroughly Bohemian. These positions
are not as contradictory as they might seem, for the musical nationalism of the
late nineteenth century were not always distinctive; the qualities urban
composers cook from folk music sometimes amounted to little more than modal or
pentatonic scales and syncopated rhythms, features found in the music of many
peoples. Dvorak acknowledged this, even claiming that he "found the music
of the Negroes and of the Indians practically identical" and that "the
music of the two races bore a remarkable similarity to the music of
Scotland"!


Famous composers often borrow melodies from the common people, but the
traffic can also move in the opposite direction. One of Dvorak's students
supplied words for the English horn solo in the slow movement, and the resulting
song, "Goin' Home," soon outstripped the symphony in its mass appeal,
with many people mistakenly believing that it had been sung by slaves in the old
South.


The folk influence should not obscure this symphony's link with the German
tradition; Dvorak stated that it was "written upon the classical
models." It also employs the fashionable "cyclic" technique,
quoting the main theme of the first movement in each of the later movements. The
finale recalls themes from the second and third movements as well. The latter
procedure may have been inspired by Beethoven's Ninth. Like so many symphonists,
Dvorak tips his cap to the master; his scherzo begins with an allusion to
Beethoven's.


PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Piano Concerto No. 1

in B flat Minor, Op. 23


On Christmas Eve of 1874, Tchaikovsky played a new piano concerto for his
Moscow Conservatory colleague Nikolai Rubinstein; an undistinguished pianist
himself, the composer thought it prudent to consult a virtuoso. In an oft-quoted
letter, he recalled Rubinstein's verdict: "It appears that my concerto was
worthless, that it was unplayable, that passages were trite, awkward, and so
clumsy that it was impossible to put them right, that as composition it was bad
and tawdry, that I had filched this bit from here and that bit from there, that
there were only two or three pages that could be retained, and that the rest
would have to be scrapped or completely revised." Deeply offended,
Tchaikovsky vowed to publish the work without altering a note. After years of
bitterness between the two men, Rubinstein admitted his error, playing the
concerto frequently and to great acclaim.


Or so the familiar story goes. But there are several reasons to regard this
tale with caution. Tchaikovsky wrote the letter more than three years later,
when his memory of the details could have been eclipsed by his vivid emotional
reaction. He was notoriously sensitive and tended to dramatize himself in his
letters. Rubinstein could not have been resolutely hostile, for he conducted the
Moscow premiere in November 1875.


And finally, though Tchaikovsky resisted Rubinstein's advice, lie eventually
made revisions with help from another pianist. Why does this letter have such a
central place in the work's history? Perhaps because it fits so well with the
romantic image of great artists as misunderstood geniuses. It is not enough for
Tchaikovsky to compose a masterpiece; lie must suffer at the hands of a powerful
and malevolent adversary before enjoying vindication. Such a depiction is
misleading for a work that met with a favorable reception from its first public
performance and has become the most popular piano concerto in the history of
music.



Like the "New World Symphony," the Piano Concerto No. 1 shows the
influence of folk music; it employs actual Ukrainian tunes in each of the outer
movements. (In addition, the prestissimo middle section of the slow movement
borrows a French song.) The concerto's most memorable melodies, though, are all
original. Since Tchaikovsky's time, his great opening theme has taken on a life
of its own. It has been widely used in movies, advertisements, and the like, and
it has even been given words, becoming not a pseudo-spiritual like "Goin'
Home," but rather a pop song, "Tonight We Love."


Despite its celebrity, this theme has become the concerto's most
controversial feature. It begins the piece in the "wrong" key (D-flat
major) and then disappears, never to return. Some critics judge this a grave
flaw, while others have argued that later themes are subtly derived from it;
both sides presuppose classical ideals of unity and balance that may not be
relevant. Audiences have never been troubled by the issue, for they recognize
that they are hearing not bad Mozart, but superb Tchaikovskv.


by Richard Boursy






   


 
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