Judy Park and the Portland Youth Philharmonic: Outta Sight!

by Steve, May 14th, 2007

It takes great chutzpah to choose Rachmaninoff’s infamous 3rd Piano Concerto as an 18 year old. It takes even more chutzpah — and raw talent and sheer dedication — to pull it off with aplomb.

Judy Park did both Saturday with the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Park led off the PYP’s final concert of the season, also the final Portland concert with Mei-Ann Chen as Conductor.

As chance would have it, Wacky Mommy and I put off buying tickets until just before the show, and chose seats I normally wouldn’t consider from the few that were remaining. Front row, keyboard side, with a perfect view of Chen, Park (and her hands!) and the first violins. Park nailed Rach 3 technically, with strong backing from the orchestra. It was an audacious choice of material. Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote it to show off his own virtuosic piano skills, and many seasoned professionals shy away from it. It’s considered the most difficult concerto in the classical piano repertoire.

Despite all these warning signs, the young Ms. Park plunged ahead and pulled off not only a stunning technical display, but also a nuanced, emotional and powerful rendering of the beast. It left me wanting to hear more of Park, and I have a feeling we will have the chance to hear much more from her as she matures as an artist and enters the professional world.

After the intermission, the brass section took up two opposing formations for a brief antiphonal fanfare by self-taught Japanese Composer Toru Takemitsu, from his Signals from Heaven. Takemitsu claimed Debussy as his “teacher”, and Chen followed his sleepy fanfare with a Debussy Nocturne.

The evening was capped off with Béla Bartók‘s Concerto for Orchestra. I’m kind of a Bartók nut, so this was a great capper for the evening. There is nothing on this Earth that compares to sitting in the front row with your eyes closed, enveloped with the three dimensional world of sound sketching the ethereal outlines of Bartók’s soul onto your psyche.

I’m ashamed to say that this is the first PYP concert I’ve been too. I’m very sad to have missed Mei-Ann Chen’s tenure here. Judging from her final concert, she is something of an undiscovered genius. She had an obvious rapport with the musicians (several of them presented her with flowers and touching tributes at the end of the evening). But she is also an obvious task master, a stickler for details, and forceful, emotive and sure in her conducting. She had this band of teenagers playing together in ways many (ahem) professional orchestras don’t pull off on a typical night.

You still have one last chance to hear Chen lead the PYP, May 27, 2007, 4:00 PM at the Resort at the Mountain in Welches, Ore., featuring highlights from the ’06-’07 season.