Return to Utah
The first half of our year-long sabbatical would come to a busy end in Los Angeles. The touring Russian National Ballet Theatre presented “Don Quixote” at the California State University in Northridge. This is a school where a couple of colleagues in the Utah Symphony studied and where on this night, a large contingent of Russian-speaking ballet enthusiasts gathered. The costumes were elaborate and the principal dancers were especially impressive. Unfortunately, the music was not live and the score by Leon Minkus seemed impeded.
We went to Pasadena on Valentine’s Day to hear The Pasadena Symphony with David Lockington conducting and his wife, Dylana Jenson, fittingly playing the solo violin part in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. As a former medal winner in the Tchaikovsky Competition, her approach was convincing and passionate. The orchestra played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony on the second half. It was well received by the large audience.
The next night we heard the L.A. Philharmonic with Juraj Valčuha conducting. Their program consisted of Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes”, the Schumann Piano Concerto with Martha Argerich and “Death and Transfiguration” by Strauss. Ms. Argerich played in an expansive romantic style and we really enjoyed the performance. The L. A. Phil. is an excellent orchestra and within this group, you can’t help but notice players like clarinetist Burt Hara, flutist Julien Beaudiment, hornist Andrew Bain and English Hornist Carolyn Hove. Their musicianship seems infectious.
On February 19th we went to hear the L.A Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Kahane conducting. Mr. Kahane gave a terrific though long-winded talk about Mozart and the Requiem. The orchestra, choir and soloists played through the entire piece following intermission. The string playing was especially good, though the solo voices were not on the same level. Margaret Batjer is the concertmaster of this orchestra and afterwards I took time to seek her out and say hello. We were in school together at both Interlochen and Curtis. It was nice to see her after so many years.
We returned to Disney Hall to hear the L.A. Phil again in a concert celebrating the Chinese New Year. Xian Zhang conducted, Ning Feng was the violin soloist, Haochen Zhang the piano soloist and Jian Wang the cello soloist for the evening. On the program was Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso”, Chopin’s “Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise” and Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme”. The three soloists were all admirable. They joined the orchestra again for “The Triple Resurrection” by film composer, Tan Dun. It didn’t make much of an impression.
Burt Hara got us tickets for the dress rehearsal of “Alice in Wonderland” by Unsuk Chin. Susanna Malkki conducted. Burt was singing the praises for Ms. Malkki. The voices were strong, the sets and costumes colorful and the orchestra made up of L.A. Phil players was excellent. It was a visual treat. I did feel sorry for the young children who came to the rehearsal. For a children’s story, at two and a half hours, it definitely seemed long. We went to another opera the following night, John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles”. The Los Angeles Opera Company supplied a great thrill. The voices were superb and Corigliano’s music made a big impression. Conductor, James Conlon did a fabulous job with the orchestra, choir and soloists.
On one of our last days in L.A. we went to hear the L.A. Phil. again. Their associate conductor, Mirga Grazinyte, conducted a program which featured Mozart’s Overture to the “Abduction from the Seraglio”, Stravinsky’s “Petroushka” and Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Like all the Sunday afternoon concerts we heard in California, there was a full house. The busy orchestra continued to perform at a high level.
We took about 11 hours to get back to Salt Lake City. The temperatures were cooler, but the beautiful mountains made us feel at home. We kept up our concert-going routine and heard the Utah Symphony with Hugh Wolff conducting. The program featured Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”, the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 with Conrad Tao and Copland’s 3rd Symphony. Our seats, high in the third tier, gave us a great view and sound of the orchestra. James Hall did a great job with some of the trickiest oboe solos in the repertoire, and Lisa and I both thought Mercedes Smith sounded good on all her flute solos, as did the ever-reliable Caitlyn Valovick-Moore on piccolo. Kudos should be distributed throughout the orchestra, but one thing that is noticed is what an amazing percussion section exists and the beautiful collective sound of the orchestra. It is nice hearing things from the audience’s perspective. From our playing seats in the middle of it all, it’s hard to fully appreciate the many facets that make up this first-class orchestra. I also made a trip down to Sandy, UT to hear the American West Symphony. It was fun to hear their all-French program and my student, Robin Vorkink, shine on the many beautiful oboe solos.
Lisa and I spent a lot of time with our students at the University of Utah. Oboist, Lucas Florin, gave a very musical performance in one of his doctoral recitals. Lucas is every teacher’s dream and really captures the attention of his audience. His musical presentation made for a wonderful afternoon and I predict good things for his future.
Our next entries to the “Musical Journey” should come from France or England. In a few hours our plane leaves for Paris, the first stop in a three-month trek around Europe. Our bags are packed and we have concert tickets in nine different countries. It should be fun.
– Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes