Pianist Philippe Bianconi
The Monterey Symphony ended its 2017-2018 season last night at Sunset Center in a blaze of glory. The ending work on the program, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, sent us on our way with its famous themes resonating in our heads and reminding us how great a piece it is, no matter how many times we may have heard it in the past. The Monterey Symphony, under the direction of Max Bragado-Darman never sounded better, and it is with shock and surprise that we learned in the printed program that Maestro Max will be leaving us at the end of the 2019-2020 season. We will miss him, but he has accomplished a lot during his tenure and will be leaving a much stronger orchestra than the one he inherited.
The guest artist for this evening’s concert was the brilliant French pianist Philippe Bianconi, and he treated us not to one concerto, but two: Liszt’s Piano Concerto in A Major and de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. These two works that we rarely hear in live performance both share a characteristic treatment of the solo piano, not entirely as a virtuoso instrument, but as a concertante member of the orchestra often accompanying prominent solos by members of the orchestra. The opening measures of the Liszt Concerto featured a lovely clarinet solo by Julia Bonomo, and the third movement opened with a fine solo by principal cello Adele Akiko-Kearns. Additionally, there were other significant passages in this concerto where the piano recedes into the background and accompanies the woodwinds and strings.
This is not to say that Mr. Bianconi did not revel in every moment of virtuosity available to him, for he dazzled us as he whipped his way through octaves, scales and glittery passages while especially enjoying the moments of virtuosic pomposity in the concerto’s exciting finale. The audience loved it and gave him a prolonged and enthusiastic standing ovation.
Bianconi’s energetic and aggressive performance of the Liszt Concerto resulted in the Symphony’s Hamburg Steinway needing some touchup tuning during intermission, and the Monterey Symphony’s concert tuner Horace Greeley came on stage to brush up the unisons. Taking advantage of the newly refreshed Steinway, Bianconi’s performance of de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain showed us a more contemplative and lyrical side of his artistry. There were some lovely moments of charm and magic in his performance.
The program opened with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (‘Classical’), and it showed off the orchestra to its best advantage. Prokofiev’s subtle sardonic touches were as charming as ever, and the delicious Gavotte and sparkling finale brought a smile to our faces.
As I said previously, what a great way to end a season!