By John Farrell
Sunday afternoon the California Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director Victor Vener played some beautiful music in the confines of Walt Disney Hall, their second venue. They called it Dancing under the Stars” though the stars weren't out that afternoon. (They played the same concert the night before at the Los Angeles County Arboretum as well, which explains the title.)
No negative judgment on the Arboretum, where thousands go every two weeks to hear the orchestra play under the stars, but it is hard to believe that the music Sunday could have sounded better at any venue in, say, the western United States, indoors or out. There were problems, of course, but the orchestra was fully professional, if not flawless then nearly so, and the rehearsal from the night before only served to make everyone sharper.
That's not saying that everything was of equal value at Sunday's concert. The afternoon opened with selection from the musical “Grease” that featured a couple of recognizable tunes but that otherwise didn't have much to commend it. It was a musical bon-bon, no more, and not a high calorie, rich chocolate one at that.
Ignoring that opening, the concert was filled with serious music and enough variety to satisfy most tastes and featured a world (indoor) premier of two works by pianist and composer Bryan Pezzone.
After the selections from “Grease” the orchestra changed from a pops orchestra plying hits to a serious orchestra giving its all to Ravel's 1912 “Daphnis and Chloe, Suite no. 2,” a marvel of Impressionistic music whose roots Vener explained with characteristic humor. The music has an effect that is palpable and mysterious: you feel like all nature should sound like the first movement, “Lever du jour,” and while the next two movements aren't as profound, the effect of all is complete magic played by an effective and musically secure orchestra.
The other Ravel work on the program was the better-known “Bolero,” a work that is too often taken for granted. True, in a recording it is little more than a cliché, and probably doesn't deserve much attention. Performed live, though, and it can be filled with passion and a very real sense that every instrument in the orchestra is exposed and must play precisely for “Bolero” to work. Terrence Schonigt, who plays the same riff on the snare drum through the entire work, is perhaps the most remarkable of the performers in “Bolero,” but precision and perfect coordination are required throughout the orchestra. You may not love the piece, but you have to appreciate the sheer artistry of performing it live.
Pianist and soloist Bryan Pezzone was the featured soloist, performing with drummer M.B. Gordy and bass guitarist Tim Emmons three pieces of his own composition on the long grand piano, “Skipping,” “Lament” and “Dancing Hearts,” all at least in agreement with the concert's title (though, as Pezzone pointed out from the piano bench, more introspective and emotional than their names suggested.) They were bright, interesting and melodic.
The the orchestra came back into play, after listening respectfully to the trio on the stage front, playing with the soloists a piece called “Banana Dancing (for Mr. Moose),” the world premier (except for Saturday night, of course.) It was a little in the form of a piano concerto, complete with a cadenza and plenty of dialogue between the pianist and the orchestra, played with enthusiasm by its composer and the orchestra as well. (The title is a tribute to a childhood music teacher, apparently.)
The orchestra played, as another brief offering, Glenn Miller's “In the Mood” in an orchestration that emphasized the brass and was a pleasant diversion before the program's final work, Bernstein's “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story.”
The last is a regular at Pops concerts but is still worth hearing, and Vener had the audience yell out “mambo” at his direction when it was cued in the score, and a fillip to the performance.
The next pair of California Philharmonic concerts, “Rodgers and Hammerstein in Europe,” are scheduled for Saturday, August 6 at the Arboretum at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, August 7 at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Hall.
John Farrell is a local music and theater critic. More of his stories can be found at email@example.com.