Music notes UA students take center stage in Sierra Vista Symphony opener

Keitaro Harada brought his Phoenix Youth Symphony to Crowder Hall Sunday.

    Keitaro Harada brought his Phoenix Youth Symphony to UA's Crowder Hall on Sunday and for many in the nearly full hall, it was a chance to glimpse the future of classical music.

   If this talented ensemble's performance Sunday was any indication of what we can expect from young musicians today, we can rest assured classical music will thrive.

  This group of high schoolers was not only technically impressive, they were passionate beyond what you would expect from teens raised on a diet of hip-hop and pop that holds little regard for violins, violas and woodwinds.

  The PYS performed a program that would have challenged the best of the area's pre-professional ensembles: Tchaikovsky's melodic suite from "The Sleeping Beauty"; James Curnow's dynamic Symphonic Variations for Euphonium (with UA prof Kelly Thomas as soloist); Wagner's dark Prelude and Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde"; and the buoyant Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's "Prince Igor."

  Harada, a conductor of growing talent and infectious showmanship, coaxed an informed, passionate and exciting performance from his musicians. To be honest, aside from the parents and family members of the young Phoenix area teens, most of the audience was there to see Harada. In his time as a fellow with the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers Institute for Orchestral and Opera Conducting, Harada earned a loyal following among Tucson classical music fans for energetic, enthusiastic performances. He's a bundle of energy at the podium, directing the musicians with technical proficiency and an unbridled passion. Some might argue that his showmanship walks the fine line of distracting from the music, but I think personalities like Harada are what's needed to rejuvenate interest in classical music. Just look what the young and excitable Gustavo Dudamel has done since he took over in Los Angeles.

  Harada on Sunday drew ornate playing in the Tchaikovsky, producing explosive exclamations in the intro and lush string passages throughout. The euphonium concerto, which showcased the talented soloist Thomas, was as much a showpiece for the orchestra, which early on came close to playing over Thomas. By the second movement, Harada was able to strike a balance.

  Harada followed an impressive performance of Wagner's dark work with the fanciful and energetic Borodin Polovtsian Dances. To cap off the afternoon, Harada's performed as an encore "Sleigh Ride" and had the audience chime in with percussive claps.

Sunday's concert was streamed live and Harada said among those watching it on the Internet was his mother in Japan and the composer James Curnow.