Santa Cruz Symphony: “Immortal Love” at the Mello Center

Daniel Stewart 11-17-13_edited-1 

On Sunday, January 26, the Santa Cruz County Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Daniel Stewart took the stage at the Mello Center For The Performing Arts and performed Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) (1895) by Gustav Mahler (1869-1911) featuring the marvelous voice of 25 year old baritone Yunpeng Wang; Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (1885) by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Selections from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

Arguably, the Santa Cruz County Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Stewart has now developed into the finest musical ensemble South of San Francisco and North of Los Angeles. The boundary line that separates these fine world class orchestras is on the verge of shifting from microscopic to invisible. Michael Tilson Thomas and Gustavo Dudamel be forewarned!

Mahler wrote the four poems during his painful relationship with Johanna Richter. He incorporated them into the body of Songs of a Wayfarer. The songs are Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht (When my beloved marries), Ging huet Morgen übers Feld (This morning I went over the field), Ich hab’ ein gluehend Messer (I have a gleaming knife) and Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz). There are strong connections between the Wayfarer and Mahler’s First Symphony. The main theme of the second song is the main theme of the first movement and the final verse of the fourth song appears in the third movement.

Mahler’s poems were most beautifully performed by baritone Wang and his German pronunciation was excellent. Likewise,Wang’s stage presence and artistry were impressive. The coordination between Maestro Stewart’s keen eye and ear, baritone Wang and orchestra were simply incredible. The instrumental entries were razor sharp. Both delicate and intense vocal and instrumental textures merged into brilliant musical moments that clearly depicted Mahler’s despair. Mahler’s magical compositional skill to blend and coordinate vocal lines and orchestration are evidenced in the Wayfarer and his phenomenal work Kindertotenlieder (1901-04), composed in reaction to the illness (scarlet fever) and death of his two children. Both Stewart and Wang did their part to carry forth Mahler’s anguish, sorrow and melancholy state in this superbly performed work.

Wagner’s Prelude opened with the cellos performing a most beautiful legato line followed by what was to be a spectacular musical interpretation of this well known, at times overpowering work. Musicians in Composition and Form and Analysis classes have long pondered the tonal structure of this great music drama, especially the chords that seem to float endlessly and defy resolution and tonality.

The three Leitmotifs that occur throughout the work have been customarily designated Desire (opening bars 1-3), The Glance, The Love Potion and Deliverance by Death. These Leitmotifs are associated with characters and serve to identify and amalgamate the overall structure into one. Stewart realized and achieved an impressive overall effect of passion, dynamic contrast, intensity and musical effectiveness. There were moments when waves of sound crescendoed and powerfully inundated the Mello. The strings set a most calculated, passionate mood as the Leitmotifs wove their identity and musical magic throughout the work.

The orchestra performed seven selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet with perfectly balanced textures between orchestral families ranging from delicate to intensely dramatic. The brass and winds animated a slow march against a much faster upper texture in the strings was impressive. Again, as a touch of class on the part of Stewart, many soloists were singled out by Maestro Stewart for their dynamic and wonderful artistry followed by another warm gesture for the entire orchestra to stand and be recognized. The concert ended and the standing, packed-house demanded no less than four appropriate curtain calls!

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