It seemed like a gala evening at Sunset Center last night as the Monterey Symphony under the direction of Max Bragado-Darman presented its February concert: Ovation. “The 3rd Annual Women’s Night Out” attracted a whole bunch of well-dressed women for its 6:30 pm festivities, the pre-concert lecture in the theatre was well attended, and the orchestra, at the top of its form, received a well deserved standing ovation.
At first glance, the program seemed odd. There was no overture, no concerto and no major symphonic work ending the program. And why was Elgar’s Enigma Variations paired with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade? The answer to this question became immediately apparent during the concert. Both Elgar and Rimsky-Korsakov exhibited genius-like skills in effective orchestration that well suited the combined talents of Max Bragado-Darman and the highly skilled members of the Monterey Symphony.
No soloist? In part, the orchestra itself was the soloist! And in the final work on the program, Scheherezade, not only did Concertmaster Christina Mok have a recurring solo that was as moving as it was brilliant, virtually every other principal in the orchestra had important solos. Especially impressive during this concert was the occasional pianissimo playing from the strings in the Elgar that was so quiet yet had substance and shape.
When my wife and I moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1974, one of the first concerts we attended was the Monterey Symphony, which at the time was under the direction of Haymo Taeuber. We happened to be seated next to a chatty lady who seemed to know a great number of the orchestra players on stage. She pointed out her dentist Vernon Brown, her violin teacher Mildred Kline, Carmel Pine Cone music critic Nathalie Plotkin, horn player Dwight Carver, local violinists Owen and RoseMarie Dunsford, and her neighbor, a sweet little old lady named Shelia Webster, who lived on Scenic Drive and could regularly be seen walking her dog around Carmel Point.
These were locals, and their presence gave the impression of this being more of a community orchestra than a Metropolitan Orchestra. Now, four Music Directors later the standards of instrumental players’ skills have become so elevated and infused with new and younger experienced players that today we have an orchestra that is vastly different and more professional than what we heard 45 years ago.
Thank you Maestro Max. We will miss you when you leave, but you have enriched our community.