PORTLAND — Preparing for the Portland Youth Philharmonic’s 90th season debut on November 9 doesn’t leave conductor and musical director David Hattner a lot of extra time. Leading up to each new season, he conducts auditions and works to blend the region’s top young musicians into a world-class performing orchestra.
Founded in 1924, Portland Youth Philharmonic (PYP) is America’s first established youth orchestra. Its exceptional musicians range in age from 7–23, have to audition to be accepted, and come from 100 different schools throughout Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Hattner’s most challenging job initially is forming the orchestra itself. He tweaks and rebuilds it each season based on how many young musicians are returning versus how many have graduated, then combines that with how many new talents are joining.
“This year, our orchestra is exceptionally strong,” Hattner explained in a recent interview with Portland Family. “Some of its members have been in the orchestra three years, and quite a few have been in four. We even have a few returning for their fifth and sixth seasons. It’s exceptional to have that kind of continuity.”
But still, many members are new, and Hattner, who is now in his sixth year conducting the orchestra, said it takes time to blend good musicians into an orchestra.
“Learning to play with 115 other musicians takes practice,” he said. “Our performers spend their summers preparing excerpts from the repertoire we’ll play. The next step is for them to audition for the conducting staff to determine where they’ll be seated, and then rehearsals begin for our Fall Concert.”
The PYP’s 90th season opens on Saturday, November 9, 2013, at 7:30 p.m., at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland.
The Fall Concert opens with a full orchestra version of PYP alumnus Kenji Bunch’s “Supermaximum,” a work originally written for string orchestra and performed by the Camerata PYP (formerly known as the Philharmonic’s Chamber Orchestra) in April 2013. Hannah Moon, the PYP’s Piano Concerto Competition Winner, will take center stage as the featured soloist for Grieg’s Piano Concerto. The second half of the concert will feature Howard Hanson’s “Elegy” and Dvorak’s “Symphonic Variations.”
According to Hattner, the orchestra takes about eight weeks to prepare to play these works, and both the process of rehearsal and performing in the PYP are transformational experiences for the musicians.
“The commitment and love of the repertoire is unusual among students at this age,” Hattner said. “They get to be together, and they get to do it right — down to every possible detail. Everyone is mining this material as deeply as they can. By the time these musicians get to the Philharmonic, they know they will be scrutinized; they’ll need to be prepared and be accountable. And the results show it.”
Hattner’s pride in his students is evident, knowing that the repertoire is exacting, but attainable. “If you’re going to have an orchestra, you might as well be performing with the intensity, accuracy and meaning that the composer intended, or not do it at all,” he said. “It’s always exciting, knowing that the audience is experiencing the orchestra becoming a single organism from a group of singular, talented individuals.”
Music lovers will have plenty of opportunities to experience the PYP’s work. The 90th season includes four Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall performances, the Camerata PYP “Music in the Pearl” series at the Wieden+Kennedy Building, and the Cushion Concerts for children aged 2–8, this year at the Oregon Zoo. The concerts will showcase music from Shostakovich to Theofanidis and Stravinsky.
Season tickets are extremely affordable, from $33 to $120, and are available through the PYP office. Single tickets, ranging from $11 to $45, are available as well.
Families with younger children will want to inspire their kids by taking them to one of the two Cushion Concerts this season, which will present the Young String Ensemble in a family-friendly concert designed for children ages 2–8. Two concerts will take place for the first time at the Oregon Zoo on March 16, 2014, at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. These concerts aren’t too time consuming, just 45 minutes of interactive music, which also features an “instrument petting zoo” before each performance.
“The Cushion Concerts are good events,” Hattner said. “They give parents a chance to think about whether an instrument is good for their child. We see our musicians thriving in every area of their lives, from going to college to developing lifelong friendships. It just changes the way they think.”
More information on performance dates and tickets are available at www.portlandyouthphil.org.
This article first appeared in the October issue of Portland Family Magazine.