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Classically Trained: Bringing their best to Bulgaria

June 25, 2011|By Bradley Zint
  • The Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra practices at UC Irvine on Monday for its upcoming trip to Bulgaria. The 10-day tour will be its first ever.
The Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra practices at UC… (BRADLEY ZINT, Daily…)

IRVINE — They've sold out two concerts in Europe. But that was probably the easiest part.

Now they've got to pack their suitcases and polish their instruments — not to mention print out those boarding passes to fly to the shows.

Still, sold-out performances on a foreign continent? Not bad for some of Southern California's finest and youngest classically trained.

The buzz and anticipation are high for the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO), which leaves Sunday for its 10-day tour to Bulgaria, the home country of PSYO conductor Maxim Eshkenazy.

Newspapers in that southeastern European country have already previewed the Irvine-based ensemble's pending performances. Even more media — like radio and television — will broadcast the youth orchestra's music for the Bulgarian masses.

"It's a huge media blitz," Eshkenazy said Monday outside PSYO's rehearsal home, the Winifred Smith Hall on the UC Irvine campus.

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The orchestra performs in the capital city of Sofia, then Plovdiv and Varna — the three largest Bulgarian cities. Eshkenazy predicted that the biggest concert might be the first in Sofia's Bulgaria Hall, a 1,100-seat venue that's home of the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra.

"But you never know which one is going to be biggest," he said. "You think one will be the pinnacle, but something different happens. We will see."

The program includes "Slava!" by Leonard Bernstein, Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," John Williams' "Imperial March" from the "Star Wars" films, Tchaikovsky's suite from "Swan Lake" and Bulgarian composer Petko Staynov's "Thracian Dances." Encores are also planned.

Choosing those pieces took consideration, Eshkenazy said.

He wanted the music to highlight various sections of his orchestra — like the strings in "Swan Lake," the brass in "Slava!" and woodwinds for "Thracian Dances" — and represent American and Bulgarian composers.

Eshkenazy hopes the tour for the PSYO, an educational ensemble formed in 1993 under the auspices of the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony, has a transformative and lasting effect.

"When you start repeating the same program over and over, there is something magical happening," he said. "The connection, the brotherhood, the teamwork, they improve dramatically, and it stays with that orchestra as a tradition for a long time after that."

Eshkenazy wants to emulate that level of success with this group, whose only "tour" beyond its Costa Mesa concert hall performances has been to Palm Springs.

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