Sunday, May 8, 2011

Music I'm Listening To: Santa Rosa Symphony, Jon Nakamatsu (May 8, 2011)

I attended an afternoon Santa Rosa Symphony concert today directed by Bruno Ferrandis with pianist Jon Nakamatsu as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. The scheduled program was all Russian music, but Ferrandis opened the concert with the "Nimrod" variation from Elgar's Enigma Variations, played in memory of Evert Person and Jess Jackson. Both were supporters of the Symphony and both died recently. The scheduled program began with Fairytale Poem, by contemporary composer Sofia Gubaidulina, followed by the Tchaikovsky concerto and then Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition after intermission.

I formed my impressions of the Gubaidulina piece before looking at the program notes. I had to laugh when I read through them. The music felt cinematic to me, but I was put in mind of 1950s science fiction rather than the animated subjects that are believed to have inspired the piece (it seems the composer has never really explained the precise meaning of the title). Apparently, Gubaidulina supported herself in the days of Soviet control of the arts by writing a great deal of music for films of all kinds, but apparently no science fiction. The program notes speak of "dangers lurking" but also of "cheerful adventure." I seem to have tuned in mostly to the dangers. The mood created seemed ominous to me, with quivering flutes and shimmering string tremolos particularly memorable. I half expected to hear a theremin emerge from somewhere toward the back of the stage--but no theremin was involved: Gubaidulina has drawn on conventional instruments to create a consistently interesting texture open to a variety of interpretations, it seems. The performers gave the impression of being well rehearsed today, right on top of the music, and very much in tune with the conductor. I enjoyed this very much. Gubaidulina is another composer I'll now be looking out for.

I must admit the Tchaikovsky piano concerto is not one of my favorite pieces of music, but it was a lot of fun to see it played, as it keeps both the soloist and the orchestra quite busy. Again the orchestra seemed in good form. Despite a couple of wobbly solo bits in the brass section and a rather hesitant-sounding flute at one point, the overall impression was solid, and Nakamatsu played very well. Nakamatsu got a standing ovation and a half out of his performance--the half standing ovation at the end of the first movement. Tchaikovsky sometimes had a way of making his music sound finished right in the middle (this piece and the Violin Concerto are good examples). While I don't mind people clapping after a particularly well-played movement, clearly some people thought the concerto had finished and it took a few moments for everyone to figure out why Nakamatsu remained seated and conductor Ferrandis continued to face the performers.

After intermission, Ferrandis led the Santa Rosa Symphony in Musssorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in the version orchestrated by Ravel. As a teenager just getting interested in classical music, this is one of the pieces I first latched onto (like many other people). It is varied, colorful, and immediately accessible. Again the performers seemed in good form. Although Ferrandis took some of the slower sections at a rather faster tempo than I would have preferred, the overall effect was persuasive.  Taken as a whole, a satisfying concert.

Jon Nakamatsu photo by Christian Steiner.

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