Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - With Spring in the air, an animated crowd of locals and visitors showed up in numbers to take in this delightful classical concert by the San Diego / Tijuana Youth orchestra at the Saturday March 19 performance at 7:00 pm outdoors in the Plaza de la Hermandad, between Villa Premiere and Buenaventura hotels, on the beach end of Calle San Salvador in downtown Puerto Vallarta.
As with last summer's monthly series of well-attended performances by the Youth Orchestra of Guadalajara, Via Cultural, a non-government organization dedicated to promoting culture in Puerto Vallarta, this time flagged the joint youth orchestras of San Diego, CA and Tijuana, BC on their "Tour Mexico International" initiative to come perform for us before returning to their respective homes. Some members of the Guadalajara Youth Orchestra also participated in this Vallarta concert.
With two consecutive performances programmed (the first one a matinee on March 18, at 11:00 am at the Auditorio Juan Luis Cifuentes Lemus of the University of Guadalajara in Ixtapa,) the vibrant and enthusiastic conductor Dr. Angela Yeung, Associate Professor of Music, Director of the University of San Diego's Chamber Music Ensembles and founder of the Youth Orchestra of San Diego, plus Ambassador for Community Outreach from the Fanfaire Foundation, conducted with much conviction and aplomb throughout, preceding each number with a concise background of the composer and his/her work, and all ably translated by local teacher/conductor/composer Miguel Almaguer.
The hour-long and imaginatively selected program featured living composers with works such as the prolific Korean-born Soon Yee Newbolt's Perseus, with the apt comment that it should be "great for a movie soundtrack," dramatic with its distinct rhythmic string ostinatos throughout, after the opening mood-setting Old Arias and Dances by Ottorino Respighi.
This was followed by the evocative Elements from another contemporary and lucrative American composer, Brian Balmages, made engaging for its continuous playful pizzicato four-note "bubble" motif floating throughout the 1st movement, "Air" which has a minimalist quality about it.
"Water" by contrast is impressionistic, describing a calm shimmering body of water, while "Earth" follows light and playful, paying homage to Mercury from Holt's The Planets, to conclude with an aggressive and dissonant "Fire," and a relentless rhythm culminating into a wild and powerful fugue.
But with no intermission in the program, we were quickly lulled by the romance of the Melodia para Violin y Orquesta by the Mexican composer Gustavo E. Campa, delightfully rendered by Alexandra Castillo with a gigantic "Super Moon" above and waves splashing on the shore, and the concert ended with Polish-French Moritz Moskowsky's lively and lyrical Danzas Espaņolas Op. 12
But not before playing Franz Schubert's beloved though mysterious Unfinished Symphony No. 8 in B minor (1st movement), the main "classical" work of this concert. Here, the combined orchestras more than ever came together with all sections of this young ensemble playing as an expressive homogenous whole under Dr. Yeung's competent baton, to bring out the poignant beauty of the various melodic themes contrasting with its foreboding but equally sincere and emotional sub-themes in the rich orchestration of this all time concert favorite.
Encores, cheery "Bravos," colorful bouquets of flowers and photos all to round off yet another magnificent evening of classical music by an exuberant conductor and her dedicated orchestra!
More exciting even is the fact that the San Diego Youth Symphony has set its sights further afield! Not only does it perform classical concerts nationally and internationally, but they have also launched a much appreciated "Community Opus Project" in two schools of a low income district of Chula Vista, in partnership with San Diego Oak Park Music Conservatory and Monarch School. And it's all inspired along the famous Venezuelan El Sistema phenomenal music teaching model, and not by replacing any school-run music programs, "but rather help fill in the gaps left by a cash strapped education system."
Said Symphony and President and CEO Dalouge Smith in his January interview with "Sign On San Diego" magazine... that "it's important that all students have the opportunity to reap the academic and social benefits that come with the study of music," and that "achievements will be tracked to bring awareness to the immense value a music education program brings to a community..."
Lofty goals indeed, but this unique institutional vision through music education is actually catching on rapidly internationally through some 25 odd countries (and counting)... Canada, the US, UK/Scotland, Brazil, etc... just goes to show what a crying need there is out there today!
We heartily applaud Dr. Angela Yeung and the San Diego Youth Symphony recent concert here. Their visit not only enriched us with beautiful orchestral music, but their work in San Diego's poor communities remind us more than ever that music does have "a bigger purpose," not only for building good musicians, but also better citizens!
For sure then, we too would like to see this inspiring and life-transforming El Sistema music project very soon in our communities here in Vallarta!