The Santa Cruz Symphony under the baton of its Director Daniel Stewart programmed three of the most interestingly diverse works one can recall. Concert number two “Dreams and Visions” featured soprano Ying Fang, yet another bright shinning star from the Metropolitan Opera Company.
I had the opportunity to attend the Friday evening rehearsal, and it was most impressive to watch Maestro Stewart overseeing/hearing the orchestral ensemble. It was reminiscent of a broad winged hawk, a common sight in the skies over Aptos, silently and gently gliding above in complete observance of the musical activity taking place and measuring it against the score that Maestro Stewart had etched note for note, detail for detail in the back of his cranium with amazing perfection.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata No. 202 Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten (Wedding Cantata, 1718), Bachiana Brasileira No. 5 for voice and 8 cellos (1938; revised 1945) by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique (1830). The lovely Ying Fang was the featured soloist in both the Bach and Villa-Lobos works.
Accompanied by Bennie Cottone oboe, Derek Tam harpsichord and William Everet contrabass and the members of the “chamber orchestra” in the Cantata. Ying Fang performed with elegance that would have thrilled and pleased Maestro Bach himself!
The Villa-Lobos work opened with a haunting pizzicato texture by the eight cellos serving as a dramatic backdrop for the rich, lush solo cello line performed by Ellen Sanders and the opening lines by soprano Ying Fang. Fang’s wonderful mastery and impressive range blended with the cellos to create a passionate musical aura that hovered over the audience like incense filled smoke. All of this was flawlessly balanced and blended by Stewart.
Hearing Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastic is always an awesome musical experience! Berlioz broke new ground in the world of orchestral music with this work composed only three years after the death of the musical giant Ludwig van Beethoven. The impressive opening featuring sterling performances by bassoonists Jane Orzel, Douglas Brown, Kathleen Johannessen and Gail Selburn, all performing with amazing skill throughout the work and settin the mood for things to come, and come they did! It was obvious that each of the orchestral families: strings, brass, winds and percussionists performed on the highest artistic level. The momentary bright, bouncy, high energy rhythmic section of the second movement proved to be the perfect counterpoint to the following slower section.
I was particularly moved by the fifth movement, Songe d’une nuit sabbat (Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath), and the somber Dies Irae melody reminded me of Verdi’s Requiem. The tremolo in the strings, instrumental effects and dynamic variations produced an ominous setting. An awesome performance in all respects that was rewarded by a rousing standing ovation!
As an example of the appreciation and camaraderie displayed by Maestro Stewart, he personally walked through the entire orchestra congratulating them on their wonderful performance.