Santa Cruz Symphony — Souvenir de Florence


Daniel Stewart

The Santa Cruz Symphony audience that attended the Sunday, September 15, Souvenir De Florence performance at Samper Recital Hall at Cabrillo College experienced a musical treat it will remember for many years. Most impressive was the exuberant, well deserved standing ovation that greeted Maestro Danny Stewart and his ensemble upon their stage entry!

Five wonderfully talented symphony musicians plus guest violinist Rebecca Jackson completed the sextet: Maestro Danny Stewart viola, Concertmaster Nigel Armstrong violin, Chad Kaltinger viola, Saul Richmond-Rakerd cello and Principal Cellist Jonah Kim rounded out this amazing group of artists/musicians. Considering the high level of musicianship required to perform the three works selected for the concert, one could clearly believe they have been together as a performing group for some time and more importantly rehearsed at length to achieve the high degree of sophisticated musicianship and individual artistry. 

Arguably, next to the symphony orchestra, and considering the marvelous wind and brass ensembles, the string quartet has been singled out as the most beautiful and challenging ensemble that falls under the umbrella of chamber music genre. This concert proved that point!

Maestro Danny Stewart served as soloist in the George Phillip Telemann Viola Concerto in G Major. The elegant opening set in iambic (weak strong) rhythmic grouping carried the movement as if it were floating. In the second movement the ensemble’s attention to dynamics was more than impressive. The fourth movement emphasized prolonged phrasing that reflected musical choreography highlighting thematic and stylistic cross-references.

The Huapango composed by Jose Pablo Moncayo and arranged by Maestro Danny Stewart is the “unofficial second national anthem of Mexico.” The performance displayed a plethora of mercurial lightness of touch and insightful rhythmic playfulness found in much Mexican folk music. The cellos were spot-on with their energetic moto perpetuo that added momentum and Latin flare. Maestro Stewart preserved in its purest form the various collections of melodies, rhythms and instrumental combinations that spun the work into orbit.

The opening of Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D Minor, Op. 70 was performed with panache and particular attention to the shading of dynamics, attack and balanced inner voicing. Nigel Armstrong’s solo opportunity with pizzicato accompaniment was most impressive. The last two movements designated Allegretto moderato and Allegro con brio e vivace, in which Tchaikovsky wove in distinctly Russian folk-like melodies and rhythms, greatly contrasted with the previous ones he used. The subtlety as well as the energy of Tchaikovsky’s Sextet was consistently brought out by the ensemble. The customary use of a huge dynamic range down to the gentlest pianissimo, a calling card of Maestro Stewart’s performances was a huge success and deserved the passionate standing ovation and several curtain calls they received.

Josef Sekon, D.M.A.

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