New Classical Tracks: Sinfonia Iuventus

by Valerie Kahler, Minnesota Public Radio
September 7, 2010
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St. Paul, Minn. — We often hear about the thousands and thousands of college students who graduate each year, only to find there are no jobs available. It's a competitive world, right? Consider, then, the added pressures of a highly specialized field of study--like music. What happens to those graduates?

The reality is there are only a few openings in professional orchestras, so many a young musician is forced to give up the dream of a fulltime career in music. A couple years ago, Poland's Minister of Culture and National Heritage decided to do something about it. Tired of seeing entire classes of top-notch musicians leave Poland, or take non-musical jobs, he established Sinfonia Iuventus. It's a gathering of the best graduates of academies throughout Poland.

Iuventus is Latin for "youth," and the Sinfonia Iuventus is young, but by no means unpolished. It's basically the orchestral equivalent of Triple A ball. This is a place for extremely talented individuals to further hone their ensemble skills, to face the pressures of full-time music making and to explore serious orchestral literature.

The band has begun a series of recordings, "Sinfonia Iuventus and its Soloists," with an eye toward chronicling the group's development. Each CD will feature a couple of works for soloist and orchestra as well as one big orchestral piece.

This CD's symphonic offering is Debussy's "La Mer." By turns lush, ominous, salty and languid, "La Mer" captures these moods with orchestration that was unusual for its day. Debussy went easy on the brass and heavy on the woodwinds and strings to create a somewhat more transparent, watery seascape.

Clarinetist Waldemar Zarow is the featured soloist throughout the disc, bringing a light but focused simplicity to the "Theme and Variations" by Jean Francaix, and an equally gentle reading of Debussy's first "Rhapsody."

My favorite is the "Duet Concertino" by Richard Strauss, where Zarow is joined by bassoonist Alicja Kieruzalska. For much of the piece, Strauss slims down his ensemble, creating an intimate environment well-suited for story-telling. In fact, there is a story attached to the Duet Concertino: a fairytale about a princess and a bear who is, of course, really a prince under a curse. The clarinet plays the part of the princess, while the bassoon represents the prince--and things are finally set to rights when the two dance together, at last mingling their voices in a sweet duet.

Speaking of mingled voices, one of the exciting things about Sinfonia Iuventus is its constantly changing roster. Each performer is limited to five years with the ensemble, which means there will be plenty of room for the next crop of talented conservatory grads. It also means that each year's orchestra will have its own unique sound, a new mingling of voices. To borrow a phrase from yesteryear, these young musicians are crackerjacks, and each new CD promises a surprise in every box.

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