BWW Review: THE SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at the Jacobs Music Center
The first concert in the San Diego Symphony's 2018-19 Jacobs Masterworks series included oft-returning guest conductor Edo de Waart and pianist Joyce Yang. The program consisted of Nocturne by contemporary composer Michael Ippolito which was premiered in 2012, and two familiar works, Grieg's piano concerto and Beethoven's 7th symphony.
In a pre-concert interview with Nuvi Mehti, Ippolito explained that Nocturne was inspired by Joan Miro's 1940 painting of the same name. Diverse musical influences include Chopin, Debussy, John Field, and the "night music" of Bartók. On first hearing at least, few listeners would recognize those influences except possibly the latter. The first and third sections bring to mind the mysterious atmosphere of movements in many of Bartok's works including his first and third piano concertos and the Concerto for Orchestra. Ippolito's middle section of three represents Miro's colorful and wildly abstract painting. Neither the painting nor the composer's musical reaction to it have much in common with the gentle dreamy state usually suggested by the nocturnes of Chopin and others. Ippolito reminds us our nocturnal experiences may include a few decidedly weird dreams.
But, discussion of influences and intent aside, Nocturne is a modern piece that will appeal to many on first hearing and many more if allowed to become familiar. An attractive nocturnal-feeling melody winds sensually downward early, and its reappearances give the work a coherent unified feeling. The wilder, more dissonant middle section is the only one that might be a challenge for conservative listeners.
Edo de Waart has conducted Nocturne with the Chicago Symphony (available here). His version with the San Diego musicians in no way suffers by comparison.
Pianist Joyce Yang was convincing in the Grieg concerto. So many virtuosos have performed the piece that it's nearly impossible for any pianist to stand out, and my
initial impression was that this would be "just" another fine version of a familiar work -- until the cadenza when her phrasing and power did indeed stand out. It was a shot of adrenaline! Nor did she disappoint in the wonderfully melodic second movement. Though marked adagio, it has rhythms and rapid many-note phrases that few articulate as well as she did. The final movement was taken at a quick pace with emotional depth and buoyant drive.
Piano encores, seemingly de rigueur nowadays, are usually chosen either to reinforce a preceding display of technical mastery, or show an especially poetic side. Yang chose the latter with "Nocturne," one of Grieg's many Lyric Pieces, welcome tasty frosting on a marvelous cake.
De Waart took its "Apotheosis of the Dance" label to heart in his direction of Beethoven's 7th symphony. Relentless driving rhythms were emphasized in all four movements, and exciting in all, though dialing down a bit might have produced even more of the tragic beauty in the familiar intertwined melodies of the second movement. And the dramatic rhythmic emphasis on one occasion caused supporting brass to overpower a main theme in the strings.
I have no quibbles for the finale. At a fast tempo with clear balances and flawless execution, it was a triumphant statement that sent all home elated, a satisfying ending to a terrific concert.
Photos courtesy of San Diego Symphony.