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Age is no barrier for two young soloists

Philharmonic performances are among many 'firsts' for pair
by: Jaime Valdez, Brandon Garbot and Natalie Yu are ready to perform March 3 with the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

When Brandon Garbot and Natalie Yu take the stage at the Portland Youth Philharmonic's Winter Concert next week, they will be the youngest in recent history to play violin solos.

The pair, a seventh-grader and an eighth-grader at Conestoga Middle School, recently was named Portland Youth Philharmonic annual concerto competition co-winners.

They will perform March 3 with the philharmonic at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The two students also have the distinction of having another first. At age 11, they were among the youngest new members of the youth orchestra.

Garbot will perform Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and Yu will play Saint-Saens' Violin Concerto No. 3.

Yu, who has been playing violin for 10 years, first picked up the instrument at age 4. Her brother, then 11, was trying his first shot at the instrument as well.

'I started because my brother was playing and I wanted to be better than him,' she said.

He ended up quitting but she continued.

'When I have a violin in my hands, I just feel really good,' said Yu, who turns 14 before the Winter Concert. 'I just like it a lot.'

This isn't the first award or recognition Yu has received. In 2002, she took third in the annual Southwestern Youth Music Festival in California. In addition, she has won the Music Teachers National Association state competition twice.

Last year, she was a soloist with the Young Artist Debut! Concerto concert that included members of the Oregon Symphony and the Oregon Ballet Theatre.

'That was really fun,' said Yu. 'We had a lot of play-through so I really wasn't nervous.'

Nor does she expect to be nervous at the Schnitzer with plans to totally immerse herself in the music.

'I just focus on my playing,' she said. 'I don't look at the audience.'

While she sees music playing an important part in her future, she has other interests as well.

'I want to be a musician but I'm also interested in engineering and architecture,' she said.

While she has one favorite piece of music, she would like to master Braham's violin concerto.

In her spare time, Yu enjoys sports.

'I like to play basketball and soccer.'

In addition, she is taking private Chinese lessons. Although the writing is difficult, Yu says she's pretty good at speaking Chinese.

More interesting

As he tells it, Garbot, 13, was a kindergartner at Nancy Ryles Elementary School when he heard a fellow student play the violin and was hooked.

'The next year, (my mother) gave me the choice of learning Spanish or taking violin,' he recalled. 'I thought the violin sounded more interesting so I chose that.'

And it's paid off in a big way.

He placed third in the American String Teachers Association's State Solo Competition last fall.

Now in his fourth season at the Portland Youth Philharmonic, Garbot serves as co-concertmaster.

'He's extremely young to be doing that,' said Ingrid Arnett, community relations director for the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

Also, he has served as concertmaster for the Young Strings Ensemble.

This past summer, he attended the prestigious Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival in Vermont.

'It was intense,' said Garbot. 'There were a lot of good musicians from all over the country.'

Although the Northwest has a pool of fine musicians, he said there is a standard that many do not go beyond. Not true of those young people playing at the tougher competitions where he was up against talented musicians across the country - from Boston or California.

'That really inspired me to work harder,' he said.

Garbot admits to being nervous about his upcoming concert appearance but like Yu, plans to focus on the music and not the audience.

In his spare time, Garbot enjoys composing songs on the violin (he's done a couple already) and likes reading. Douglas Adams' 'Mostly Harmless' is a favorite. He has also written short stories and kayaks, often at Scappoose Bay.

Youth Philharmonic Conductor Mei-Ann Chen praised the two young people and their talents.

'Brandon and Natalie, both extremely young to win our prestigious concerto competition, signify that our community is blessed with many emerging talents,' Chen said.