New Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster Yuriy Bekker, maestro Christopher Wilkins and, of course, this ever-growing orchestra, once again put on a great concert at the Bob Carr last Saturday evening. With a program featuring five selections that were either inspired by or based on literary sources, the concert was varied. Different moods, styles and eras were covered, which made up a coherent program hinged by this interesting Romantic concept of literature and myth as inspiration for the music.
Opening the program was OPO Composer in Residence Stella Sung’s piece The Phoenix Rising. A carefully constructed piece in three distinct parts, it was beautifully performed by the orchestra. Starting with a percussion driven section, the mood shifted to a quieter string part, gradually rising up to a very moving climax that featured the whole ensemble. An amazing piece of music that rightly stood alongside the rest of the selections by renowned composers of the past, Sung’s Phoenix is a great example of modern composition at its best, boasting intelligent structure and emotional power.
Bekker was the center of attention on Chausson’s Poéme for Violin and Orchestra and Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Hailing from Belarus and establishing himself as a great soloist and collaborator with various American orchestras, Bekker is a world-class performer and did a wonderful job. Not only did he emotionally and technically execute the double-stops and tremolos of the Chausson piece and the slow but touching ending bars of the Lark, but he showed attentiveness to the rest of the ensemble. Bekker’s future with the OPO looks very bright after these auspicious first few months he has been with the ensemble.
Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture is a well-known piece that manages to display a musical version of some of the elements of the Shakespeare play while still adhering to a traditional form. The brass section of the OPO has always been a strong point and it was on the performance of this piece. Especially well executed was the development section, where Friar Laurence’s theme interacts with the lovers’ theme and the Montague-Capulet feud theme. While the composition’s standard structure and Romantic purpose may have preordained the style of execution by the OPO, or by any orchestra, for that matter, it was nonetheless very well performed and enjoyable as a live presentation.
The highlight of the night was the closing piece: Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, a work featuring original orchestration, great melodies and themes, different atmospheres and highly technical passages. Wilkins and the orchestra obviously worked out all the details in rehearsal, as the result was phenomenal. After a mysterious air that pervades the first few movements, a harsh gesture by Wilkins signaled the beginning of the ‘Infernal Dance’. Its sudden forte beginning, accentuated by percussion, was played loud enough to startle even the hardest of hearing in the audience. Handling the complex rhythms of this movement is no easy feat, and the OPO did a stellar job not only in tackling these technicalities but also in conveying the fury of Kashchei as he appears to face Prince Ivan, who has intruded into the palace through the gates, or so the story of the Firebird goes.
The percussion section deserves credit, since their intervention gave flavor and emphasis to key moments in the piece, such as the cymbal clashes in the end. The orchestral effects that Stravinsky’s score calls for, ahead of its time in 1910, were very well executed, including the trombone glissandi and the colorful harp strokes. A great performance of this piece concluded a concert of variety, high musicianship and dedication, making the OPO stronger than ever in its 2010-2011 season.
To visit the OPO’s Web site, including future concerts, click here.
To visit Yuriy Bekker’s Web site, click here.
To visit Stella Sung’s Web site, click here.
For a clip of Stravinsky’s Infernal Dance, performed by the San Francisco Symphony, click here.
For a clip of Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, click here.