BWW Review: 1812 TCHAIKOVSKY SPECTACULAR WITH THE SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY at At The Bayside Amphitheater
The cannons boomed, bells rang, and spectacular multicolored fireworks exploded overhead as the SDSU Aztec marching band, including eight tubas, joined the San Diego Symphony to celebrate Russia's victory over Napoleon! Tchaikovsky would have been delighted, though probably secretly so since he said he loathed the piece. He also might have been a bit puzzled about a performance more than a century after his death 6,000 miles away from Moscow. I doubt he envisioned the overture as a mainstay of summer pop-season finales with cool summer breezes wafting in from a bay on the Pacific Ocean. but unjaded classical-music fans delight in the tradition.
The overture capped a second half that more than made up for problems in pre-intermission performances that demonstrated the perils of outdoor concertizing. The "Polonaise" from Tchaikovky's opera Eugene Onegin, a potentially perfect opener, fell curiously flat. Stirring regal melody lines in the strings disappeared in an amplification imbalance that overemphasized ponderous and unmelodic brass accompaniment.
Then an otherwise excellent performance of the familiar first movement of Rachmaninov's second piano concerto ran into competition from alien stereo speakers, possibly onboard a nearby boat. These blasted a chair-vibrating pop-music bassline at double the volume sometimes heard from dark-glassed SUVs whose owners hope to awe others with the quality of their stereo gear and hipness of musical taste. The unfortunate combination may have been maliciously contrived. The disruptive electric-bass sounds began near the start of pianist Andrew Staupe's fine performance and continued to the end. Could it have been a rival pianist frustrated because they didn't get the gig?
It was a great relief when only a nearly inaudible motorboat hum was added to Tchaikovsky's orchestration of Capriccio Italien, and we were rewarded with an exciting, sparkling interpretation by conductor Sameer Patel and the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. "Amazing Grace," with orchestra and the San Diego Master Chorale, faired equally well vs sounds of the sea in a performance of great beauty. The Chorale is notable both for its singing and its contributions to music education in the San Diego community.
The second half of the evening was a total success. It began with "Polovtsian Dance No. 17" from Prince Igor by Borodin, which was followed by excerpts from Khachaturian's Gayane ballet. The percussion section's mastery of the unusual rhythmic accents of the famous "Saber Dance" was impressive, and the entire orchestra played the colorful score with energetic precision.
Many in the large audience had no doubt come to the concert hoping for the joyful excitement a good conductor and orchestra can bring to Tchaikovsky's oft-played 1812 Overture, and they weren't disappointed. Maestro Patel, an engaging emcee throughout the evening, warned that two rows of cannons on the bay side of the audience made a mighty sound. The many musicians, including the conductor, with at least one earplug confirmed the rumor. In spite of the warning, it was almost impossible to quell a startled jump after Tchaikovsky's long buildup to the moment when cannonballs rain down on Napoleon's army and the Russian national anthem overcomes the French Marseilles. Patel's well-paced, no-holds-barred approach worked to perfection to cap a well-planned program.
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Photos courtesy San Diego Symphony.