The charismatic Daniel Stewart, Director of the Santa Cruz Symphony programmed three interesting, diverse works, including a long awaited, most welcomed look into the music of today for the season’s opening concerts October 4, 5. The works performed were Overture to Candide (1956) by Leonard Bernstein, In Seven Days by Thomas Ades (2008) with soloist-pianist Nicholas Hodges and Symphony No. 41 in C Major K. 551 “Jupiter” (1788) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Bernstein’s Candide opened with a fanfare that wove its way through and reappeared throughout the overture. Sharp, bright attacks were par for the musical course under the keen ear of Maestro Stewart. Bernstein incorporated tunes from the show along with a couple of new ones that later became the “signature piece” for Leonard Bernstein and his beloved New York Philharmonic.
In Seven Days can be approached as a quasi-multi-media theater work realized in seven continuous sections/movements that incorporate the orchestra, a solo pianist and videos set in six sections shown above and behind the orchestra. The video was created mostly from still photographs by Tal Rosner. The form of the work is a theme and set of kaleidoscopic variations. The theme initiated a texture of incisive, agitated string writing literally on the atmospheric level opened the first movement titled “Chaos-Light-Dark.” As the work progressed the string motif took on an increasingly elaborate structure that culminated in the imitative aspect of the fifth and sixth movements: “Creatures of the Sea and Sky-Creatures of the Land.”
The visuals seemed to capture and absorb the inherent rhythmic energy of the orchestral music and prepared the piano entry (Light) that was voiced and controlled effortlessly by soloist Nicholas Hodges. Maestro Stewart balanced and blended the orchestral ensemble well with the piano assuring that the piano was both prominent as soloist as well as part of the overall texture. It became apparent there was exact precision in the integration between the images, the motivic processes and harmonic textural orchestration. Moments of chaotic, opaque textures became glued together and then liquidated into bright more tranquil moments under Stewart’s direction. This performance received a deserved standing ovation by the supportive audience!
Mozart’s wonderful “Jupiter” Symphony was yet another superbly realized work, a work that Mozart composed in an unbelievable six weeks. If that weren’t an incredible feat, Mozart also composed two other symphonies during that same three-month period! All four movements were elegantly shaped with its exhilarating contrapuntal finale. Notable throughout the three works performed were the flute, piccolo, bassoon, impressive brass and percussion sections. A show of appreciation and camaraderie was displayed by Maestro Stewart, who personally walked through the entire orchestra congratulating them on their wonderful performance.
In a brief chat with several members of the orchestra, it was evident that they enjoyed performing under “Danny” Stewart, as he is affectionately called and their musical growth and development had reached new heights. The enthusiastic turnout supported Stewart’s conviction that if he and his musicians present challenging works, they believe that audiences will come to understand and enjoy them.