Redding’s symphony venue has Chico’s beat
In terms of acoustics, Redding has again beaten Chico out—by pulling the Northstate Symphony off its Convention Center’s stage and onto the floor in front of that stage. This means the musicians share the same space as the audience and are not, as in the case of Chico’s Laxson Auditorium, in what is virtually “another room"—the Laxson stage, where a third of the sound disappears into the rafters.
Redding was the place to hear last weekend’s fine Northstate Symphony concert and any comments here are based on that performance.
As with many of my generation, Perry Como’s “Hot-Diggity, Dog-diggity, Oh What You do to Me” came close to putting the kiss of death on the Symphony’s curtain-raiser, Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Rhapsodie Español” (1883), a work whose difficult modernist touches (tricky rhythms, fractured bits of melody, enigmatic silences) tend to be overwhelmed by its celebratorily brassy principal melody. It was well-handled, crisp and clean.
A second and, in many ways, more fascinating work was a new composition by Chinese-American composer, Chen Yi: “Chinese Folk-Dance Suite” (2001). This colorful and inventive piece, which dropped pentatonic bits into a generally westernized musical stew, painted three pictures: (1) a “Lion-Dance” parade complete with popping fireworks, (2) a deliciously spooky “Yangko” for which orchestra members chanted soft rhythmic patterns behind violinist Terrie Baune’s splendid soloing, and (3) a “Muquam” dance from an autonomous Moslem region in northern China, appropriately filled with swirling middle-eastern lines and rhythms. Rather than swallow up the sound, the Redding Center’s large space added to the remote and haunting qualities of the work.
The concert ended with an absolutely gorgeous performance of Brahms’ "Second Symphony" (1877), which moves from the bird-chirping pastoral mood of Beethoven’s "Sixth Symphony" into the darker area of Schubert’s "Unfinished Symphony" and on into a darkly dense romantic collage of luscious tunes (often in the cellos or horns) and engaging musical bits (a last-movement swirling figure in the woodwinds, for example) that represents Brahms’ greatest orchestral achievement.