Fifty years ago, if the Yakima Symphony Orchestra were planning to present a concert and every pass over the Cascades was closed, most likely the concert would still have taken place; in its early years as a community ensemble, pretty much every musician lived within an easy driving radius.
As the orchestra has grown into a fully professional ensemble, playing great repertoire that no one in 1971 could have conceived of presenting in Yakima, auditions for open positions in the orchestra have drawn candidates from throughout the Pacific Northwest, so that now players on the YSO’s regular roster come from as far away as Idaho, western Oregon and far northwestern Washington, not to mention some who split their time between Washington state and New York or California.
This is great for Yakima — we have an orchestra that many larger cities could be jealous of — but when enough of these great musicians can’t come across the mountains to rehearse and perform, it does now lead to situations such as the one last weekend, where “The Music of John Williams” had to be postponed until later in the season. (Stay tuned to the YSO website for the new date.)
Speaking of postponements, one of those great musicians who will be coming over the mountains for the YSO’s next concert on Jan. 29 has been waiting almost two years for the opportunity to play Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto in Yakima; the symphony’s upcoming program, “Scheherazade and Other Remarkable Women,” was originally scheduled for March 2020!
Commissioned in 1947 by the great jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, Copland’s concerto fuses traditional symphonic lyricism with American and Latin jazz. The YSO’s performance will feature as soloist principal clarinetist Angelique Poteat, who in addition to being a stellar performing musician also is a prize-winning composer, with recent commissions from the Seattle Symphony, Emerald City Music and Seattle Collaborative Orchestra.
In addition to Copland, Poteat will perform the world premiere of an original work for unaccompanied clarinet, composed specifically for this program.
Another of the remarkable women of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra will be featured in the second half of the program, in the work for which the concert is named: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s brilliant concert suite “Scheherazade,” based on the stories of the Arabian Nights. Representing the title character, who in the legend spins new tales each night to keep the interest of a cruel sultan and thus preserve her own life, YSO Concertmaster Denise Dillenbeck will perform some of the most famous violin solos in all of orchestral literature.
The concert opens with an overture written almost 200 years ago by another remarkable woman, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, who might well have become a more famous composer than her brother Felix had she been allowed to pursue a career as a professional musician. Hensel composed hundreds of musical works for private “salon” performances with family and friends — the only type of performance deemed respectable for a woman of her social standing at the time — but the overture is her only known composition for orchestra. It was never performed in public during her lifetime, and the unpublished manuscript score remained buried in the Mendelssohn archive in Berlin until about three decades ago.
• David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.