Lucky music lovers heard the Anchorage Youth Symphony give a fine performance of the Overture to Wagner's "Meistersinger von Nurnberg" on Tuesday night. The personnel necessarily fluctuates as students come, go and graduate. At this time the brass sounds a little lighter than usual, though very much on target. The counterpoint from the other instruments stood out splendidly, perhaps as a result.
String intonation is always a challenge for younger ensembles. On Tuesday, however, the violins were together, nowhere more happily than when they started climbing with the second theme ("Elsa's motif") and accurately soared to the high notes. Conductor Linn Weeda opted for the ending from the version played in the opera - a short chord that would lead into a chorale - rather than the sustained final chord of the more familiar concert version. It was unexpected, but not out of place.
Weeda next led the group in the last two movements of Alaska composer Philip Munger's "Sinfonietta," composed in memory of Gordon Wright, who died in Feb. 2007 and whom both men count among their musical mentors.
It was only the second performance of the movements, though Weeda said he'd originally performed an early version of the second movement, "Lamentations," in an arrangement for brass trio. The playing lacked the nuance I think the movement needs to make it's full emotional impact. But the playing was solid and precise enough to reveal the piece's compactness.
The jaunty final movement, "Rags - Gordon's Last Ride," came off with energy and a sense of fun. When Munger came onstage to acknowledge the audience's applause, he paused to slap hands with principal bass player John McKeever, who led the section in giving their big fiddles a snazzy spin at a key point.
The program ended with Robert Russell Bennett's popular suite of tunes from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" that drew a standing ovation. The soloists were all good throughout the evening, but Trevor Clayton's trombone in "It Ain't Necessarily So" really stood out.
The Anchorage Junior Youth Symphony, directed by Donald Curry, opened the evening with a Telemann overture, Robert Smith's "The Second Storm" (the best sounding piece on their part of the program) and excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol."
The Discovery Theatre was mostly full, a much better turnout than the last AYS concert I attended. Most were family, as is usual; but they couldn't all have been relatives. Maybe word is getting out that this orchestra is one of Anchorage's undiscovered cultural treasures.