Music in the Mountains SummerFest: An orchestral feast begins
June 27, 2013
MIM 2013 SummerFest orchestral series opened last week with the orchestra ("our gem," as Executive Director Cristine Kelly called it) under maestro Gregory Vayda.
The centerpiece was Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" with Nevada County native Gyan Riley as guitar soloist. It's music everyone knows without knowing where it comes from. It features in movies, jazz arrangements, commercials and rock. But in its original form for guitar and orchestra, the work comes alive. It demands our attention to the intricacies of the guitar and the complex commentary of the orchestra. The Spaniard Rodrigo, though not a guitarist, understood the guitar's moods and passions. Riley was a suitably passionate interpreter, hot in the flamenco-like percussive rhythms, cool in the liquid runs and ornaments and intense in dialogue with the orchestra. Maestro Vayda managed the balance well: prominence for the guitar, amplified for the large hall, but without diminishing the rich underpinning of the orchestra. As an encore, Riley played one of his own etudes, demonstrating superb control in trills and tremolos.
The opener, Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," is an exquisite jewel. "Tombeau," literally "tombstone," implies a commemoration. It's a double commemoration of 17th century French music of which Couperin was an exemplar and of friends of Ravel killed in WWI. It's bittersweet, evoking an age of elegance imbued with the poignancy of loss. Ravel's orchestration of the work for piano creates sparkling detail, which the keyboard cannot easily voice. The effect, beautifully crafted by Vayda, was of a concerto for orchestra, giving the woodwind, notably principle oboist Neil Tatman, and brass sections sensitive prominence and the strings a lush outing. "Light but edgy," Vayda called it — and as dapper and perfectly turned out as Ravel himself.
To end, Vayda let the orchestra have its head in Bizet's Symphony in C, a student work written when he was 17 and halfway through his tantalizingly short life (he died at 36). It's a witty, playful work, classical in form and style. Vayda drew out the best from the orchestra. The first movement conjures Schubert; in the second, violins soared, Mendelssohn perhaps, while cellos initiated a tempestuous fugue. The third, labeled allegro vivace, "fast and lively," deserved the label con brio, "with vigor and spirit." The final movement, a fiendish perpetual motion contrasted with captivating melody, demanded spectacular precision from the violins — which Vayda appropriately acknowledged. Vayda obviously knows that if he is not having fun, nobody else will. Vayda was having fun. So was the orchestra. And so were we.
On Sunday, we can hear another side of Vayda and the orchestra in Shostakovich's "Ninth Symphony" and Beethoven's great "Choral Symphony" with the MIM Chorus and four excellent vocal soloists.
Charles Atthill lives in Alta Sierra. He used to have a rule of thumb: if he didn't recognize some beautiful music and it wasn't Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms, it was probably Mendelssohn. Seems he was wrong: it was probably Bizet.