Knowing what to look for
Violinist Annaliesa Place shines with the finely-tuned Northstate Symphony
Yet again the Northstate Symphony has proven itself a superior, finely tuned and tremendously able musical force. In its two concerts last weekend—Saturday evening in Chico and Sunday afternoon in Redding—conductor Kyle Wiley-Pickett led it through exquisite performances of John Adams’ four-and-a-half-minute-long Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Johannes Brahms’ D-Major Violin Concerto and Igor Stravinsky’s stunning Petrouchka.
The minimalist Short Ride was a zippy mélange of repetitions and explosive bursts of energy, beginning with wood blocks and moving through brasses, woodwinds, percussion and random whistles before getting to the lower strings, whose syncopated twos (as set against the rest of the orchestra’s threes ) were both a musical and visual treat.
The Violin Concerto is filled with the dense, pushing complexity of much of Brahms’ later work, so much so that it is hard to tell whether the solo line should be integrated into the whole or set (via tone and dynamics) against it. As far as the audiences were concerned, however, any worrying about such issues was totally overwhelmed by soloist Annaliesa Place’s exquisitely accurate and movingly warm playing, her sunny good looks and her total, often smiling involvement in the work. Gracious and accomplished, Ms. Place was a hit both nights.
However, the concert’s real pièce-de-résistance was the second-half Petrouchka, by Igor Stravinsky. This incredibly difficult, variously metered and solo-filled mix of comedy, irony and tragedy was stunning—filled as it is with remarkable solo bits and a richness of internal drama matched by only a handful of Western works.
I think the full nature and brilliance of the piece was somewhat lost on the Chico audience, which clapped respectfully but didn’t rise up cheering as it might have. It is a long piece, and perhaps, after the already long Brahms, it was simply too much of a good thing. Written as a ballet, Petrouchka also tells a story, and, although the program notes summarized its clown-hero’s brief, sad life, they didn’t give the audience anything to hold on to or look for—such as the hurdy-gurdy song, the ballerina’s trumpet-accompanied dance and the stomping of a bear that comes into the story at the end. More specific, what-to-look-for notes might have made the work more approachable.
The Redding audience was somewhat more appreciative and tended to laugh or grin at the playful turnabouts in the music itself. But then it was perhaps a smaller, more select audience, listening in a considerably superior auditorium (Laxson will never really do for concerts until it has a complete shell). Clearly, an evening performance would bring out more Redding listeners, but how to squeeze two evening performances into the orchestra’s already spare schedule I do not know.