Santa Cruz Symphony – Pacific Perspectives

Daniel Stewart_edited-1

On Sunday, March 22, at the Mello Center for the Performing Arts, Director Daniel Stewart presented three works with depth of musical insight and orchestral precision that appealed to the audience. Due to a last minute flight change, soloist Youjin Lee had to leave for Japan, and the Beethoven Violin Concerto was performed first.

The timpani opening by John Weeks was admirable as was the horn playing by Susan Vollmer and Leslie Hart. Soloist Youjin Lee’s performance of the Beethoven was magically fragrant, songful and rich in light and shade. The thematic material under the keen ear of Maestro Stewart provided a splendid dialogue between orchestra and soloist throughout the work. The cadenzas were magnificent, especially in the third movement. Her interpretative depth and astutely applied spectrum of dynamic balance, timbre and compelling lyricism blended beautifully under Stewart’s guidance.

Lou Harrison’s Pacifika Rondo (1963) was the second work of the afternoon and consisted of seven movements: 1. Family of the Court, 2. A Play of Dolphins, 3. Lotus,  4. In Sequoia’s Shade, 5. Netzahualcoyotl Builds a Pyramid, 6.Hatred of the Filthy Bomb and 7. From the Dragon Pool.

Lou Harrison has become the Aptos icon of contemporary music. Lou’s curiosity about the musical instruments employed in the wide circle of the Pacific Rim moved him and his partner Bill Colvig to develop and construct instruments that would become the focus of many of his compositions. Lou was a gentle, jovial and friendly spirit who was both influential and well liked by all who met him, this writer included. Lou wrote “Each movement refers to a section of the Pacific Basin, except for the sixth, which is a protest against the bomb and its contamination of Pacific life” that was voiced by the performers in no uncertain terms. A plethora of musical instruments are used in Pacifica Rondo: organ, small fipple flutes, miguk p’iri (Korean double reed instrument) pak (Korean wooden clapper), changgo (Korean hourglass drum), daiko (Japanese barrel drum), Jalatataranga (Hindu bowls tuned with water) and many more exotic percussion instruments from the orient. All of these instruments created textures that reflected unique Asian sounds and timbres. Many sections alluded to Japanese “Noh” Theater, derived from the Sino-Japanese word meaning skill or talent, a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century.

The final work on the program, Sinfonia, Fantasia, was a work composed by our own maestro Daniel Stewart. The first movement opened with a violin argeggio on the note “G” followed by ascending lines that led into a section of high rhythmic percussive energy on a palette of many musical colors that modulated into numerous delightful textures. The rhythm-driven, yet never hurried pulse, was picked up by the strings, while the brass section echoed lines with a contrapuntal magnetic pull as if they were attempting to defy gravity. An international mix followed with a Spanish flare in the trumpets, a dash of Klezmer by the brass for good measure that transcended into a moment of atmospherics broken by thunderous and loudly accented percussion by the timpani and large bass drum. This musical moment liquidated into practical silence and more atmospherics by the flutes.

The second movement, designated Rondo, rides on 6/8 and 7/4 metric structures that introduces a beautifully designed lyrical string section that offers brush strokes of “Mahleresque” reflections that further develop in the last invocation movement.

Invocation once again developed the beautiful orchestrated “Mahleresque” melodic lines with a delightful solos by oboist Peter Lemberg and English Horn Adrienne Malley. Sinfonia is a most interesting, well thought out composition that will enjoy many future performances.

The audience fully agreed with this afternoon’s innovative concert, as Maestro Stewart once again made his usual congratulatory round of appreciation through the inspired orchestra. In addition, Maestro Stewart revealed the exciting 2015-2016 concert season that received a hardy round of approval from the audience.


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