Monterey Symphony – Carmel-by-the-Sea Centennial Celebration

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Composer John Christopher Wineglass

This was an evening to remember. Last night at Sunset Center the Monterey Symphony pulled out all the stops and put on a tremendous opening season program. We had a world premiere by local composer John Wineglass, 100 members of West Point’s class of 1958 in the audience, an impressive unit of Color Guard soldiers in parade dress from DLI to present arms during the performance of the Star Spangled Banner. We also had Monterey Symphony President Lee Rosen on stage presenting a copy of the Wineglass score to Carmel Mayor Steve Dallas to insert in a time capsule to be opened 100 years from now in 2116.

Preceding the concert there was a reception on Sunset Center’s upper terrace with festive wines, spicy Swiss sausages and spaetzle noodles. There was a red carpet leading to the entrance of Sunset Center surrounded by paparazzi snapping away at dignitaries, and there was also a row of expensive luxury cars from Sam Linder Autos quietly on display (I only had eyes for the gorgeous bright red Ferrari).

Oh, and I should mention that when we detached ourselves from the pre-concert festivities and began to take our seats, we were astonished to see on stage at Sunset Center, in addition to the “usual suspects,” an array of drums and percussion instruments, the likes of which you have never seen before. The stage was dominated by a gigantic (Donald Trump would call it “Yuge”) wooden drum approximately ten feet in diameter (or so it appeared from the audience) plus an assortment of drums and odd rattles such as might be used in an native Indian ceremony (if you have seen a lot of old John Wayne westerns they might possibly look familiar to you).

The program began with the premiere of a tone poem by John Wineglass: “Big Sur: the Night Sun.” This work was commissioned by the Carmel Centennial Celebration in conjunction with the Big Sur Land Trust and the Monterey Symphony Orchestra. Composer John Wineglass in this work is paying homage to the natural beauty of the Big Sur area and the poetry of Robinson Jefferson (an extract from which we heard during the performance). To better understand what this work is all about, you would need to read the excellent program notes by Dr. Todd Samra based on interviews with the composer — these offer valuable insights into the music’s meanings and expressive emotions.

In the opening moments of this work we began to understand that we were observing a multi-media presentation — there were picturesque drums at opposite sides of the stage having a conversation with each other, a brief poetry reading of a Robinson Jeffers poem, gorgeous paintings by Simon Bull of Big Sur and the Colorado Canyon mountains projected on a screen behind the orchestra, and finally, the introduction of a native flute player (Emiliano Campobello) and a Ohlone-Chumash vocalist (Kanyon Sayers-Roods), whose participation added enormously to the effectiveness of the work. It held our attention so well that I was surprised when it was over to glance at my watch and observe that 25 minutes had passed. Wineglass was able to combine all these elements with effective writing for full orchestra and infuse the entire creation with meanings that provoked our gratitude for being able to live near, and enjoy God’s gift of, our central California Coastline.

In line with its Shakespeare theme for the 2016-2017 season, the program continued with a performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2. These familiar favorites, sometimes heard in its piano solo version, came to life with color and passion by the players of the Monterey Symphony under the direction of Conductor Max Brigado-Darman.

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Rebecca Anderson, JeongHyoun Christine Lee & Anna Petrovna

After intermission we heard the magnificent soloists, pianist Anna Petrova, violinist Rebecca Anderson and cellist JeongHyoun Christine Lee in a stylish and exciting performance of Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto.” Having heard these three fine young performers earlier in the week at a chamber music performance in All Saints’ Church, we were expecting a performance on the highest artistic levels. We were not to be disappointed. The performer whose breadth and passion constantly surprised us was cellist Lee, whose rich sonorous sound and elegant shaping of phrases was simply gorgeous. Violinst Anderson and pianist Petrova also had many moments of magic. Together they brought a rare majesty to this concerto, wherein it was never used for sheer virtuoso display, but rather as a vehicle that allowed three fabulous musicians to let the music speak for itself.

Returning to stage and responding to tumultuous applause, the musicians gave us one encore — the Scherzo movement from Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio they had played a few days earlier at All Saints’ Church. It was a knockout!

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