Symphony ends its season with a powerful performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird
The North State Symphony’s 2008-09 season began with a bang, and last weekend it ended with one, too.
The four-show season opened in late September 2008 with a performance of Rachmaninoff’s devilishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 1, with guest artist Jon Nakamatsu storming across the keyboard and the orchestra right with him all the way. The Laxson audience responded with a rousing standing ovation.
Last Saturday (May 16), the symphony didn’t need the assistance of a world-class professional to get a similar response from the Laxson crowd. It earned its standing ovation and whoops and hollers and whistles and bravos on its own, with a performance of Stravinsky’s magical, fantastical Firebird Suite (1910) that was confident and powerful and altogether enthralling.
I’ve listened to many recordings, by world-renowned orchestras, of this dazzling piece, but hearing it live—and powerfully and impeccably delivered—from our homegrown symphony was of another order altogether.
It followed three other works on the evening’s program that were enjoyable in their own right and also set the stage for the Stravinsky. There were two Classical-era Mozart pieces—a selection from the early Violin Concerto No. 5, also know as the “Turkish Concerto,” and one of his mature masterpieces, the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat—as well as a selection from the American composer George Gershwin’s jazz-tinged Concerto in F.
The evening opened with the Mozart symphony, the first of the final three symphonies he wrote—Nos. 39 through 41—during the extraordinarily fertile summer of 1788, three years before his death. This was a hard time in the composer’s life, but the symphony is sprightly and even joyful in places.
The orchestra started off hesitantly, but quickly settled into Mozart’s rhythm and took charge of the piece. This is a vigorous work, with even the ordinarily slow second movement (Andante con moto) alternating between delicate lyricism and rhythmic propulsion, and the musicians approached it with authority.
That was followed by the Third Movement of George Gershwin’s Concerto in F (1925), written following the success of another concerto, Rhapsody in Blue (1924). The final movement is a vigorous, energetic piece that recapitulates earlier themes, including a blues melody from the Second Movement, leading up to a blazing finale.
The soloist was 21-year-old Emily Loeffler, a student at Humboldt State University and winner of last season’s Young Artist competition for college and university students. After some initial—and perfectly understandable—timidity that allowed the orchestra to overwhelm the piano, she got into the swing of things and attacked the piano with vigor, charging powerfully forward as the piece built to its wall-of-sound finale.
The other Young Artist winner to perform was Adriel Taslim, 18, winner of the high-school competition and currently a student at Shasta College. The Concerto No. 5 is early, lyrical Mozart (he was 19 when he wrote it), and like all of his work it is highly articulated, which means a soloist’s every note can be heard. Taslim is too young to bring a mature artist’s insight to such music, but he played it with admirable technical skill, and Mozart and the orchestra did the rest.
Next was the Stravinsky, which after Mozart was like going from, say, the precision of Vermeer to the colorful dreaminess of Chagall. Once again it became evident just how profoundly Kyle Wylie Pickett has influenced this orchestra. He’s not a flamboyant conductor—there are no wasted movements—but he’s a joy to watch. His style is gracefully fluid but also intensely direct, and he connects with the musicians very deeply and brings out their best, which is considerable—and why the symphony can play a challenging work like the Firebird Suite so beautifully.
If you haven’t heard the North State Symphony lately, you’re missing out.