By John Farrell
The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke returned to the Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center Saturday with their fourth classical concert of the season, a mixture of Beethoven and Gershwin (with a little Barber added for spice) and with the knowledge that the LBSO, after union negotiations and a troubled-looking future, has found stability and a new life.
Last concert everyone was less than sure that the symphony, celebrating its 75th season, would even be there for this Saturday's concert. Since then the Musician's
It was momentous news, of course, but the orchestra appeared as unflustered and professional as ever. There was a spring in Diemecke's step as he jumped up to the podium, but then there is always a spring to his step. In other words, business as usual.
That business began with Samuel Barber's Second Essay for Orchestra, in honor of that composer's 100th birthday this year. Barber wrote three expressive Essays: this one was premiered by Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic in 1938.
This essay is almost a concerto for orchestra, complex and simmering with a powerful, yet delicate power. It uses different elements of the orchestra to create at first a plain skeleton of music which rapidly grown into a broad melody, a second and then a final return to its original structure. Timpanist Gary Long got a work-out in his extensive section, and the work ended with a purity of sound and color.
Enrique Arturo Diemecke controls not only his orchestra, but his audience, with a gesture. Saturday even he couldn't keep the audience quite in control. Pianist Jon Nakamatsu was the soloists, and after he finished the rousing jazz-immersed first movement of George Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F the audience spontaneously, and against instructions, burst into loud and continual applause. They responded to a mild and humorous hand signal from the maestro for the next two movements, but at the end of the work it was too much, and the audience gave Nakamatsu three standing ovations. It was deserved.
Gershwin's Concerto in F introduced jazz to the symphony orchestra, and Nakamatsu played like a night-club habitué, playing with rhythmically complex rubato and plenty of attitude, and still cooperating with Diemecke's broad and thoughtful control.
The second half of the program was filled with the bucolic charms of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the “Pastorale,” part of a year-long look at all nine Beethoven's symphonies. The work is big, lovely, sometimes delicate, sometimes filled with peasant dances, even once filled with thunder and lightning.
Beethoven wrote it as a celebration of nature's beauty and power, and the pleasure he derived from nature.
It quotes or imitates dances, it uses birdsong to introduce its most delicate section. And only Beethoven, who was a force of nature himself, would dare to change the key of a bird in mid-chirp to suit his work, as he does several time in the work. Genius is genius.
Diemecke exercised tight control over the orchestra: he even voicelessly whispered to the strings more than once, eliciting a marked delicacy. The woodwinds are key to the Sixth, and oboist Joe Stone, flute player Diane Alancraig, clarinetist Gary Bovyer and bassoonist Julie Feves all did major service as solo voices in the woodland choir.
But every voice in the orchestra, from the cellos in mass beginning a fugue of the theme (the same sort of fugue heard years later in the final movement of the Ninth Symphony) to timpani and percussion came together tom produce a work of beauty where the audience hardly breathed. It was also rewarded with a double standing ovation.
John Farrell is a