BWW Review: SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY at Jacobs Music Center

BWW Review: SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY at Jacobs Music Center

Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare opened his San Diego Symphony Orchestra guest appearance with Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture. Payare conducted with vigorous dramatic motions, and the orchestra responded by bringing the work's romantic themes and stirring gestures to life. Principle English horn player Andrea Overturf played the score's first solo with exceptional warmth and beauty. She wasn't unique in her excellence. Every soloist and section managed even demanding tempos and dynamic changes with pleasing tone and precision.

The concert was part of the Symphony's 18-event festival "It's About Time." Berlioz's score eased into the festival's theme with busy percussion that included timpani, cymbals, triangle, two tambourines and a satisfyingly booming bass drum.

No "easing in" for Roberto Sierra's concerto for percussion and orchestra. It brought the largest collection of percussion instruments I've ever seen on a concert stage. Steven Schick, the Symphony's festival curator, was the soloist. Written in 1998 for Scottish virtuoso Evelyn Glennie, the concerto is about 20 minutes long. In its three movements without a pause, the soloist is challenged by marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, glockenspiel, cymbals, and assorted drums, including a Caribbean steel drum.

The pace is frenetic throughout, with little variation in dynamics. Each movement

BWW Review: SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY at Jacobs Music Center

emphasizes the timbre of a different material--wood, metal and finally skin. Schick had to move from one instrument to another with a speed that evoked a mix of appreciative smiles and disbelieving awe. The clamorous ending brought an immediate standing ovation, I suspect more for the soloist than the piece itself. Wondrous spectacle though it may be, its complex use of Latin rhythms and repeated, interwoven rhythmic patterns are unlikely to be fully appreciated by anyone other than a percussionist, especially on first hearing.

The program's second half was devoted to Prokofiev's symphony No. 5. It conforms to the "It's About Time" theme with eight percussion instruments. Prominent snare drum and wooden block helped propel the second movement, and returned to drive the concluding fourth to an exciting conclusion.

Maestro Payare, like Gustavo Dudamel, is a graduate of Venezuela's hugely successful El Sistema program. He led the orchestra to strong performances that belied his slim and youthful appearance. He was especially impressive in Sierra's difficult and seldom performed concerto with its shifting harmonies and complex rhythmic changes. Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer told me last year that Jahja Ling's replacement would be chosen toward the end of this year. Widely praised Rafael Payare deserves a place on the slate of candidates.

For a complete list of "Its About Time" events visit the San Diego Symphony Orchestra's website.

BWW Review: SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY at Jacobs Music Center
Percussion Galore

Rafael Payare and Steven Schick photos courtesy of San Diego Symphony. Stage photo by Ron Bierman.

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