Soloist Jon Nakamatsu
On Sunday, October 10, a highly energized Santa Cruz Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Daniel Stewart performed “Fanfare For The Common Man” (1942) by Aaron Copland (1900-1990), El Sinaloense (1943) by Severino Briseno (1902-1988), Rhapsody in Blue (1924) by George Gershwin (1898-1937) and the Symphony No. 9 in E minor (New World” (1892-93) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).
When one observes the highly talented combination of the Santa Cruz Symphony, it’s charismatic Director Daniel Stewart and distinguished pianist Jon Nakamatsu, expectations of a Mozart, Beethoven or Chopin piano concerto would normally exclude all other performance possibilities, but not this time. These classical giants on this occasion did not fit into the concept of the “American” theme of this concert.
Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” demonstrated one of the huge influences conductor Daniel Stewart has had in developing the Santa Cruz Symphony: the highly accurate and “artistic” realization of the written score. Copland’s Fanfare was flawlessly performed by a brass choir of eleven members: 4 Horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba. The carefully controlled result created ultra perfection of the highest musical order!
Artistically clever was the point-counter-point of Copland’s all-brass work against Briseno’s all-string work. The pleasant surprise of the afternoon was Briseno’s El Sinaloense. It was easy to imagine that had the theatre doors been open, there could have been a multitude of people dancing in the streets! During the Friday rehearsal, the Maestro reiterated several times the importance of bringing forth the subtle nuances and dynamic challenges found in the up-beat syncopations of a mariachi performance. The difficult moments were met head on with masterful virtuosity by bassists Aleksey Klyushnik and Kelly Beecher plus cellist Sheng Zhang, whose moments in the limelight were outstanding!
The performance of “Rhapsody in Blue” emphasized all the “quasi” jazz nuance Gershwin could have hoped for in this concert setting (with an assist in the orchestration by composer Ferde Grofé). Of special note were the “extra” artists employed to fully realize the work: Anthony Pikard, Audrey Jackson, Nick DiScala saxophonists and the entire brass section, who really were brilliant and totally absorbed in this work. The now famous clarinet “smear” that opened the work was done to perfection by Karen Sremac, who performed it as if it were the reincarnation of the original performance. Again note-worthy were the rich, lush brass textures.
Jon Nakamatsu proved that he is at ease performing Gershwin as he is performing Mozart. Always in perfect dynamic balance with the orchestra and always ready to display his awesome virtuosity and musicianship. Nakamatsu’s brilliant passages, hand crossings and chordal entrances were spot on throughout. The cadenzas were especially effective!
The somber opening of the Dvorak was the calm before the dynamic tutti that ignited this beautiful performance. Each of the four movements offered a special musical feeling that overwhelmed the audience to the point of tumultuous applause at its conclusion. The English horn solo performed by Michael Adduci depicting the forest funeral of Minnehaha in the second movement was simply magical. Throughout the four movements there were similar magic moments of horn, flute, brass and percussion performance that were musically impressive and effective in creating a memorable musical experience. Maestro Stewart brought textural clarity to the work, enhanced by the exceptionally subtle dialogue between sections of the orchestra. Most noteworthy were several beautiful endings of phrases that slowly, calmly vanished into nothingness. Wow!
Our sister orchestra in San Francisco needs to take heed that just to the South another orchestra is creating magically beautiful music that is fast creating an equal reputation!