SCHENECTADY — The remarkably versatile violinist Charles Yang was center stage Saturday night at Proctors to take the Empire State Youth Orchestra and a large crowd to places few classical music concerts dare to tread. The concert also inaugurated the new partnership between the orchestra and Proctors.
Visually it was different: the 100 plus musicians sported blue jeans and sneakers and music director Helen Cha-Pyo even dressed down in white. After knocking off Bernstein’s Overture to “West Side Story” and Arturo Marquez’s sensuous tango “Danzon No. 2,” Yang came out sporting a T-shirt under casual black attire. A changing light show illuminated the back buffers.
A former prodigy and now 27, Yang was all business in Korngold’s lushly lyrical Concerto in D Major (1947). His effortless, immaculate technique supported sweet toned, beautiful phrases. He was unabashedly romantic with a fiery intensity throughout the three movements. The orchestra gave him a watchful yet solid support.
But Yang was only getting started.
After intermission, he sat alone on stage with his electric violin and some equipment that he operated with a foot pedal. He created various background tracks, including plucking his violin like a guitar, that accumulated to allow for a tune on his violin or to sing a blues. That was pretty cool. He’s a natural showman and isn’t afraid to try things.
That led to creating a forest audio with bird chirps and sighs over multi-tracks. He left the stage while the tape continued to play. The orchestra returned and then Yang returned with his violin to open “Covers: Concerto for Popular Culture & Orchestra” that he co-wrote with Armand Ranjbaran.
Based on the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” the first movement was “Blackbird” set in Yang’s birdy forest. Lush and evocative with rich harmonies, this segued into Queen’s tune, which was full of violin fireworks. The finale was even more dramatic with Yang sizzling over double stops and tons of filigree as the orchestra played the song.
After loud applause, Yang launched into a solo virtuosic display before settling into plucking “Stand by Me,” in which he enticed members of the orchestra and audience to sing. Calls for another encore resulted in a brilliant theme and variation version of Henri Vieuxtemps’ “Yankee Doodle Variations.” Personable and effusive to the end, Yang blew kisses and waved goodbye.