Monterey Symphony — Sound Waves, Third Concert

Conductor Max Bragado-Darmen

During my 45 years on the Monterey Peninsula I don’t remember ever experiencing such a powerful set of storms as we have just witnessed during the past two weeks. And, it has had its toll, for at the Monterey Symphony concert last night at Sunset Center there were pockets of empty seats throughout the audience. Even though the brunt of the storm has hopefully passed, there are still people on the Peninsula without electricity, and some of us are still without telephone landlines and internet access (I am able to write and post this review thanks to my being able to tether my iPhone’s internet hotspot to my computer).

Well, those of us fortunate enough to be able to attend last night’s Monterey Symphony concert were richly rewarded. The highlight of the evening was the closing work on the program, Debussy’s La Mer. No matter how many times you may have heard this piece, the subtle magic of the work’s first two movements and the dramatic and expressive power of its final movement, Dialogue du vent et de la mer, is a tremendously moving experience. And so it was on this occasion. The Monterey Symphony players, under the direction of Max Bragado-Darmen, were in top form.

The evening’s program began with The Oceanides, Op. 73, by Jean Sibelius, a tone poem written for and premiered at the Norfolk Music Festival in 1914. This is a work that undoubtedly was influenced by Debussy, yet demonstrated effective techniques of fragmenting melodies to create interesting textures and an intense suggestion of a turbulent sea. There was a lovely oboe solo at the end, as the piece resolved in a placid serenity.

Also a novelty to most members of the audience was Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes excerpted from his opera Peter Grimes. The first Interlude suggested a grey dawn arising over an austere seascape, the second, “Sunday Morning,” depicted a seaside village as church bells sounded with horns and chimes, the third, “Moonlight” gave us a placid nocturnal portrait, and the fourth, “The Storm” was appropriately stormy and agitated. It was surprisingly effective.

Yet another novelty was Escales (Ports of Call) by Jacques Ibert. During his time in the French Navy during World War I, Ibert visited many Mediterranean sea ports, and this work represented some of his impressions of local popular music he encountered. The first port of call, Rome, gave us a flowing Italian melody introduced by solo flute, the second, Tunis, introduced an oriental “snake charmer” melody featuring oboe and strings, and the final port of call, Valencia, treated us to languid Spanish rhythms with some castanets thrown in. It was charming.

The Monterey Symphony’s next program will take place on March 16 and 17 at Sunset Center, to be conducted by guest conductor Jung-Ho Pak, and will feature works by Hovhanes, Tan Dun and Shostakovich

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