We have enjoyed a musically active spring season on the Central Coast.
Worthwhile concerts took place from San Miguel to Santa Maria, and Saturday night at the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly, heroic guest pianist Norman Krieger helped ensure a terrific San Luis Obispo Symphony season-closer.
In the North County, Greg Magie’s Symphony of the Vines is quietly growing into the “Little Orchestra That Can.”
At its April 14 concert at Mission San Miguel, the group sounded much larger than 19 pieces and gave a very pleasing reading of Haydn’s Symphony No. 44. Even better was the Mozart E-flat piano concerto (K. 271).
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Under the hands of Marek Zebrowsi, director of the Paso Robles Paderewski festival, the Steinway sparkled, and its interactions with the strings were thoroughly Mozartean.
Another small-butmighty ensemble, the Santa Maria Philharmonic, gave an all-strings concert at Grace Baptist Church on April 28. Soloist and Director James Riccardo, who has played so well with the San Luis Obispo Symphony, helmed a program of Vivaldi, Respighi, Tchaikovsky and, most remarkably, “Fratres,” a wild piece for strings and percussion by Arvo Part.
The Part began with a white-hot scramble of notes from Riccardo’s violin that settled into a thick drone punctuated by booming tympani thuds. The eight-minute piece was static yet startling, tonally appealing yet structurally brave. It was a courageous inclusion, and Riccardo deserves points for his performance and his taste.
The finale of the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s 2011-12 season took place under the larger-than-life May moon, and like that moon, it offered a chance to feel wonder.
The concert began with loving gestures toward the past. Symphony Director Jim Black took the stage to pay respects to longtime percussionist Ross Sears, who died unexpectedly this spring, and Central Coast music legend Clifton Swanson guest-conducted the opening piece, Mozart’s peppy Overture to “La Clemenza del Tito.”
The high point of the concert, however, was the second piece, pianist Krieger’s spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto.
Beethoven’s piano concertos, especially the Third and Fifth, have always struck me as brilliant dramatizations of the Romantic conflict between the passionate individual (represented by the piano) and his larger society (represented by the orchestra). Which is the truer source of value?
Krieger is a world-class virtuoso who studied under Alfred Brendel, and his attention to the piece’s overarching narrative reflected that level of musicianship. His precise gestures, careful yet magisterial, allowed Beethoven’s thick clouds of notes to unfold organically. The slow movement was particularly tender, and at the finale, the standing ovation was spontaneous and lengthy.
The Brahms Second Symphony, which closed the concert, was something of an anticlimax after the power of Krieger’s performance, but it maintained coherent momentum throughout, and Jane Swanson sounded fine on the French horn in the second movement.
The Classics Finale sponsors were Silas and Jimmie Brewer, Clifford Chapman and Gene Shidler, and Drs. Maurina Kusell and Michael Zigelman. Tickets are already on sale for this summer’s Festival Mozaic.
James Cushing is a Cal Poly lecturer and writer who reviews the San Luis Obispo Symphony for The Tribune.