Guest Artist – Pianist Hans Boepple
The Santa Cruz Symphony ended its season with a bang yesterday afternoon at Mello Center in Watsonville as we heard the last of the candidates for permanent conductor, Rebecca Miller, conducting an interesting concert featuring a program well suited to show off conductor, orchestra and soloist to best advantage.
How do we evaluate a conductor? On the most superficial level we see a person on stage waving a baton, often with elaborately choreographed body movements and gestures. On another level we can close our eyes and hear where the music takes us, and to what extent it involves and moves us. However, ultimately it has to be in rehearsals where orchestra players, board members and the Selection Committee can best observe a conductor’s approach to a score and to what degree he or she can direct, cajole or inspire the players to bring out the best in the music and the best playing of which they are capable, both individually and as an ensemble.
On this occasion I often found myself closing my eyes and listening with my ears because Ms. Miller’s choreographed gestures tended to be distracting. Since the musicians have their eyes riveted to the score most of time, I have the impression that what drives them is more what they are hearing from their own playing and that of the musicians around them rather than movements of the conductor’s baton (except, of course, for the precision of starting and stopping, plus occasional cues).
However, listening without the visual distractions, we heard some very interesting music – sort of a sandwich involving one of the most familiar great piano concertos, Beethoven’s “Emperor,” in the middle, with the outer layers consisting of two works most of us have rarely (if ever) heard before: Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta” and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major.
Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta” made a powerful impression. This is an exciting score based on gypsy-inspired melodies and harmonies, often very similar to Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. There was a remarkable clarinet solo near the beginning by Karen Sremac, some lovely flute playing by Laurie Camphouse, and several fine solos by other members of the orchestra. The wild Gypsy ending was thrilling and convinced us that we should hear this work more often.
The opening movement of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major immediately reminded us of Brahms Symphony No. 2 with its very similar dark, brooding textures and mood. Especially memorable in the slow movement was the part writing and mysterious suspensions pregnant with suggestions that something important was about to happen. The last two movements gave us hints of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances and a final return to the Brahms-like influence of the first movement. It was interesting that this symphony seemed very long. Clocking in at 45 minutes, it seemed even longer.
The soloist in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto was pianist Hans Boepple, who has been a frequent soloist with the Santa Cruz Symphony. It has often been observed that the major orchestras in the United State tend to share the same prestigious soloists year after year – Emanuel Ax, Andras Schiff, Garrick Ohlsson, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Richard Goode, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Evgeny Kissin, Yundi Li, etc. It is very much to the credit of the Santa Cruz Symphony that it has engaged Hans Boepple for several seasons, for although he is a modest and self-effacing artist, when he sits down at the keyboard and unleashes forty years of expertise and experience to enhance any work he performs, you know that you are in the presence of a great artist. He has a technique equal to any pianist alive, plus he has taste, refinement and authority that he uses to serve the music. There is never an extraneous gesture or gratuitous display of empty virtuosity. He brought all his many years of experience to his performance of the “Emperor” Concerto on this occasion and he gave us a magnificent, heartfelt and moving performance.