Award recipients’ solos wow at McKinney

Eric Gorman
Jake Clayton, his mother Tina and teacher Dr. Stewart pose onstage at McKinney Theatre after Jake's concerto solos.

Jake Clayton, his mother Tina and teacher Dr. Stewart pose onstage at McKinney Theatre after Jake’s concerto solos.

The Saddleback College “orchestra co-sponsors a concerto competition for instrumentalists and vocalists studying with members of the Music Teachers’ Association of California or the American String Teachers’ Association,” the Department of Music’s pamphlet explains. ”

In addition to prizes and trophies, the winners receive an invitation to perform as guest soloists with the Symphony in a special concert presentation.”

Backed by the Symphony Orchestra, and led by Saddleback’s newly appointed conductor Yorgos Kouritas, the three concerto contest winners performed onstage at the McKinney Theatre on Mar. 16 for the “Concerto Gala: Catch a Rising Star,” to a very warm reception, having accepted their invitations.

The first-prize winner “is a very young, and very, very promising pianist,” Kouritas said as he introduced the third and final soloist, Jake Clayton.

“Two weeks ago when he showed up for rehearsal, I asked him, like any other soloists, ‘do you need a little time to warm up?’ and he said ‘no,'”Kouritas said, expressing how competent a musician the soloist is.

Clayton, 10, was invited onstage, showed no hesitation and was undoubtedly the star of the show. His selection was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto in A major – K488,” which he played to an awestruck audience. The piece required discipline and excellent timing as it called for him to pause routinely throughout.

Once it was finished Clayton took a bow and Kouritas whispered to him, the conductor then smiled and announced to the crowd, “He’s gonna play an encore.”

The encore piece was “Impromptu Op. 90 No. 2” by Franz Schubert, according to Clayton’s mother.

“I practice two hours every day, I’m10 years old, and I’ve been playing for five and a half years,” Clayton said. “My teacher is Dr. Stewart. She’s awesome, and my mom is too because she practices with me.”

I thanked him for speaking with me and he said, “Well, if I don’t then people wont like me, it’s kind of funny. They will like my playing, but not my personality. That’s what my mom told me.”

The first of the contest winners to grace the stage was Kenichi Kiyama, 15, who is an “amazing young violinist,” who is “doing an amazing job,” and “he’s just a wonderful person to work with,” said Kouritas during his introduction.

Kiyama performed Edouard Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole,” which he explained as “very technically difficult, with very contrasting emotions in it.”

“Overall it’s a very fun piece,” he said, as he explained how it “feels absolutely wonderful,” to be a contest award recipient, because “it’s a once in a lifetime chance, especially for a high school student.”

His impressive display of intricately-complex bow work and fingering was matched by his composure and passion for his instrument.

After Kiyama’s performance, Lauren Graham graced the stage in a stunning golden dress to showcase her award-winning talent. Singing as a soprano, she performed “Glitter and be Gay,” from the operetta “Candide,”  composed by Leonard Bernstein.

“She has the honor to be studying with one of our instructors here, Mr. Farthing,” Kouritas said. “Only a top level singer could” sing the songs that she did, back-to-back, in her contest application.

Graham’s performance fluctuated from joy to sorrow, as she expressed a wonderous scale of emotion and tones.

After the soloists’ performances, the orchestra played selections from Nicolai Rimsky’sKorsakov’s Scheherazade.” From the roaring seas to passionate love, the orchestra marvelously closed out the evening with a beautiful, but morbid piece that chronicled the tale of a woman who told her husband 1,001 fairytales to save her own life. The selection included an exquisite violin solo by Priyanka Venkatesh, a breathtaking bassoon solo by Brian Woodworth and overall expert musicianship.

“It was a wonderful evening of music,” Dr. Wheeler said, a retired professor from Cal State Fullerton and current Saddleback student. “They truly are lucky to have a conductor with the passion, desire and involvement that” Kouritas has.

Kouritas himself was impressed with the orchestra, which only had one rehearsal with the entire group. He continued to note how wonderful all of it’s members are, and requested rounds of applause from the audience for them. His respect showed for orchestra members throughout the show as he would step to the side to acknowledge them, while removing himself from the stage.

“They all have passion for music that exceeds professionals’ passion,” Kouritas said about the orchestra. “All of them will go very far.”

Flute and piccalo player in the orchestra, Andrew Whelan, 18, music education, said, “it’s stressful” to be involved in a production like this “but if you just focus on taking things one day at a time, it makes it easier than focusing on the big picture.”

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