BWW Review: SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY at Jacobs Music Center
The San Diego Symphony's opening concert of the season featured a return appearance by Edo de Waart. The program consisted of Liszt's second piano concerto and Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben. De Waart has become a favorite guest conductor of orchestra members, and Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer. He consistently brings out the best the orchestra and its soloists have to offer.
The evening began with a season-opening celebration in the Jacobs Music Center lobby featuring lively music, champagne, and quite a few music lovers in formal dress. I've never before seen the lobby as crowded or excitedly bubbling. Three will-call lines were so long, they hadn't cleared by the first sounding of the signal the concert was about to begin.
As tradition has demanded since World War II, the new season opened with the Star-Spangled Banner. The audience stood, and many sang along. The orchestra's gorgeous sound, and perhaps the controversy around recent performances at NFL games, may have amplified the national anthem's emotional impact for many.
Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet was greeted with applause as he came to the stage for
the Liszt concerto soon after the anthem's completion. The work has a highly unusual
structure. Its six sections without a break are based on a simple theme stated first in the woodwinds. The piano repeats it, though in a subtly darker variation. Transformations become more elaborate as Liszt moves the theme through the orchestra. The soloist often accompanies another musician or the orchestra rather than carrying the mainline as in most concertos including Liszt's first. It was a pleasure to watch the collaboration between veteran performers de Waart and Thibaudet. Thibaudet obviously knows the difficult piece well, and seemed to spend as much time looking up at the conductor to be sure they were in synch as he did at the keyboard. He was equally alert and supportive in duets with orchestra soloists. Principal cellist Yao Zhao's rich tone was a highlight in their lyrical duet
Although Thibaudet was careful to keep the right balance with the orchestra and its soloists, it was clear who was in command in the concerto's many virtuosic passages for piano. A woman seated nearby gasped in disbelief as she watched the blur of Thibaudet's hands on the overhead video screen and listened to the power and accuracy of the result.
I admit to a blind spot when it comes to Liszt, and the second concerto isn't even my favorite of his concertos, but I was a believer for the slightly over 20 minutes of this performance.
The intermission break was so brief, nine or ten patrons weren't able to return to their seats in time to hear the stirring opening theme of Richard Strauss's lengthy tone poem Ein Heldenleben. The title translates as "A Hero's Life," and since the work has a section devoted to Strauss's wife and later reprises melodies from a number of his earlier works, it's tempting to conclude the hero he had in mind was himself, though he never admitted it was. Some critics who had been critical of the composer thought they were the adversaries overcome in the work's depiction of the hero's triumphant victory in battle.
The musical description of Strauss's wife is written for solo violin, and often sounds
like the cadenza of a difficult violin concerto. Concert master Jeff Thayer played it beautifully.
Ein Heldenleben's most exciting section begins as off-stage trumpets herald the coming battle. De Waart built skillfully from there to the hero's resounding victory and the thrilling return of the tone poem's opening theme.
Ein Heldenleben is probably longer than it needs to be. Even with it's marvelous orchestration, de Waart's attention to detail, and some gorgeous sounds from the much larger than usual orchestra, a few musical passages didn't hold attention, and the quiet moments after the hero's victory seemed anticlimactic.
Mike Tutaj designed a series of colorful images to accompany the stories told by Strauss's score. These were projected on the three walls of the stage. The result was mixed. Colorful abstract images often unobtrusively intensified the effect of the music. But I found the occasional representative images distracting since what they represented wasn't always immediately obvious.
The San Diego Symphony season continues into next year. Visit the Symphony's website for concert and ticket information.
Photos courtesy of San Diego Symphony