Symphony’s infectious rhythms bring crowd to its feet
North State Symphony conductor Scott Seaton has often said that he’s a fan of modern music. On Saturday (Nov. 11) at Chico’s Laxson Auditorium, he demonstrated this by offering a program of mostly 20th century music and a brand-new piece, Redding composer Dan Pinkston’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, composed in 2016 and here given its world premiere.
Of the five works on the Infectious Rhythms program, only one, Hector Berlioz’s romantic “Roman Carnival Overture,” predated the 20th century (it was composed in 1844). Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane, for violin and orchestra, dates from 1924, and Huapango, by Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo, was written in 1941. Capping the concert was a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s delightful Firebird Suite, composed in 1919.
All were relatively short pieces, and together they offered an eclectic assortment of often surprising and always intriguing modern music. Noticeably absent was the usual dominating symphonic work such as Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, which was featured in the previous North State Symphony concert, in September.
The Berlioz overture got the program off to a good start. It’s just nine minutes long, but those minutes are rich in colorful themes cribbed from Berlioz’s opera Benvenuto Cellini, for which the piece originally was meant. It’s gorgeous music, and the orchestra gave it a flawlessly confident rendering.
Next was the Pinkston concerto, which quickly marked a dramatic shift in tone and structure. Anyone expecting something like Pinkston’s Shostakovich-inspired Symphony No. 1, which the NSS premiered in 2010, was sure to be surprised—one hopes pleasantly so—by the concerto’s bold mix of tonal and atonal melodies, offbeat percussion and folk and jazz motifs and rhythms.
Guaranteeing the piece’s success was the performance of the soloist, violinist Chloé Trevor, who attacked the score with skillful authority and seemed undaunted by its complexity. Trevor, a slender redhead who was resplendent in a silky green off-shoulder dress that set her off beautifully from the black-and-white-garbed symphony musicians, brought similar power and fearlessness to the next piece, Ravel’s Tzigane.
Theodore Bell, author of the program notes for the concert, writes that Ravel himself said it “must be a piece of great virtuosity … certain passages can produce brilliant effects, provided that it is possible to perform them.”
Tzigane is based on Gypsy folk music and makes dazzling use of the violin, including extended pizzicato runs (plucking of strings). Trevor was unfazed, snapping those strings as if she was playing bluegrass banjo.
That was followed by Moncayo’s Huapongo. The title refers to a genre of Mexican folk-dance music native to southeastern Mexico. Moncayo’s piece uses three dance tunes that he found in Veracruz, interweaving them to great effect. This is a rousing work rich in recognizable Mexican rhythms and melodies.
What made the Huapongo performance especially notable was that about half the orchestra was made up of student musicians from the Butte-MTAC (Music Teachers Association of California) Youth Orchestra and the Shasta College Chamber Strings. It’s a pleasure to report that they played very well. Yes, their articulation was sometimes a little squishy, but overall their performance was impressive. José Pablo Moncayo would have loved it.
The concert ended with the Firebird Suite, the dazzling, delightful orchestral composition adapted from Stravinsky’s score for his ballet based on a famous folk tale. It’s an artful blend of classic symphonic themes and Russian folk melodies, and the Laxson audience gave it a standing ovation, the third of the night.