Tuesday, May 1, 2012

New Collaborations in Anchorage Arts

Philip Munger & Dr. Lee Wilkins conferring at Friday's ACO/AYP dress rehearsal - image by Emily Weaver
I.  Saturday evening I had the pleasure and honor of directing the first collaboration between the Anchorage Civic Orchestra and the Anchorage Youth Philharmonic.  The AYP is the junior youth ensemble of the Anchorage Youth Symphony.  We held a joint concert at the Sydney Laurence Theatre at which the AYP performed two works first.  Then we joined forces for our new concertmaster and AYP director Lee Wilkins' new work, The American 1812 Overture.  Then, with our principal horn Dan Heynen, we played Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 1.  We concluded with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1, which may have gotten its first local airing in our rendition. 

Mike Dunham reviewed the concert for today's Anchorage Daily News:
The ACO itself accompanied Dan Heynen in Mozart’s two movement Horn Concerto K. 412 before wrapping up their season with a commendable performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, “Winter Dreams.” Phillip Munger was listed in the program as “interim conductor,” but he owned the orchestra in this reading and they owned the music. It ranked with the best playing I’ve heard from the group — and the piece is by no means easy music. 

There’s a lot of brass in the piece, and that section came through with few mistakes. The lower strings, which usually manage well, were particularly good. Even the violins, which can be problematic, hung together, which speaks to the attentions of Munger and Wilkins, the ACO concertmaster, as well as the players themselves. 

The winds deserved high praise, particularly oboist/English horn player Emily Weaver, whose solo in the slow movement was entrancing. The symphony was performed in three movements so that enough time would be available to rehearse. It was surely a difficult decision to drop a movement, but it was the right one. Nobody missed the omitted section, but had the orchestra stretched too far by trying to get it all in, everyone would have missed the precision and excitement that came with the finale.
 Although I'm gratified and members of the ACO must be pleased that the Tchaikovsky was so well played and received, I wish Mike had spent more space describing the collaboration between the two ensembles.  He does note that when we played together, there were almost 100 performers on the Laurence stage, which may have been a first.  It was almost too much sound for that small hall to bear, but we worked on crispness during our Friday dress rehearsal, as it seemed the force of sound from so many hit the ceiling above the stage a bit too hard.

And even though Dunham didn't seem to be impressed by Dr. Wilkins' overture, the combined group performed it admirably.  My main goal in conducting our part of the concert was to deliver a credible performance of Lee's new piece, as several ensembles across the country are contemplating or planning a performance of it.  (I'm also going to be helping Lee edit the score and parts, putting in what we've learned from its audition.)  We certainly did that, bringing out both the similarities and differences between the Wilkins and Tchaikovsky 1812's.

Dr. Lee Wilkins, Harrison Greenough, Philip Munger
And I wish Mike had been able to spend some time with 15-year-old Harrison Greenough after the concert.  Harrison made his conducting debut with the first movement from Mozart's Symphony No. 25.  He's the same age I was when I made my conducting debut in Federal Way Washington, directing Bela Bartok's Rumanian Dances.  Yikes!  I've been conducting for 50 years.  Let us hope young Harrison can look forward to 50 years of directing instrumental groups in Alaska and elsewhere.  He's talented and seems to want to work hard.

II.  This coming weekend, the Anchorage Youth Symphony will collaborate with the Anchorage Concert Chorus and local vocal soloists in a performance of Beethoven's Choral Symphony, No. 9.  As in Saturday's collaboration between the Civic and Youth Philharmonic, this next Saturday's between the ACC and AYS will feature one of the groups alone - the chorus - before they band together for the main event.  Chorus director Dr. Grant Cochran has chosen to present choral works by four Alaska composers, Dr. George Belden, John Luther Adams, Victoria Fraser and me.

These collaborations point toward a musical future in the area that seeks to engage our young musicians more fully in local musical life.  Hopefully, as a result, a higher percentage of local kids will remain in Alaska to study college-level music, and more will remain as Alaska residents.  Dr. Wilkins is a person who grew up here as a kid, went off to college and professional musical life down below, only to finally return here recently, partially to care for his parents. 

So many of us - my wife Judy and I included - have seen our talented young kids head off out of state for school and musical life, only to get fully involved outside Alaska in ways that might have been difficult up here because of limited opportunities.  There are only so many real jobs up here for performers. 

Maybe that will change.

No comments: