Ravel at piano with Gershwin at far right.
  • Ravel at piano with Gershwin at far right.
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The theme of the Opus Gala at San Diego Symphony was "The Roaring '20s."

The concert started with John Harbison. Harbison is a fairly well known American composer. He's one of those names that crops up now and again and inspires a thought of oh yeah, Harbison.

John Harbison

John Harbison

The tone of the music was quite Gatsby with a bit of irony. One might be tempted to call it whimsical, but there's got to be a better way to say it. Calling a piece of music whimsical would just be me being lazy.

Throughout the music a bluesy, raggedy theme would show up here and there. It sounded like gentle derision of the '20s, as if to say, "Were we supposed to be that naive and gullible?" I must make it clear that I have nothing to go on with this interpretation. I haven’t read what Harbison had in mind when he wrote it.

I’m not altogether convinced that knowing the composer’s intentions is a good thing. However, oftentimes the story behind the music is as mesmerizing as the music itself.

An American in Paris was our next visitor from the '20s. This isn't music about the Roaring '20s, it is music that believes in the '20s.

A carefree stroller heads out on a brisk spring morning in Paris. The stroll-taker is American, so optimism and confidence come along as well. The honking horns don't bother this pedestrian, they're merely charming greetings from passing motorists.

I imagine if we were to meet this walking ball of cheer we might ask, why so happy? Don't you know the government... Haven't you heard Iran and Syria... We’re broke.

No, no no. An American in Paris knows nothing of our limitations. It is a “can do” piece of music and it was performed as such by Maestro Ling and the orchestra.

Round three of the concert was Rhapsody in Blue. We heard this a couple seasons ago but who minds hearing Rhapsody in Blue again?

Considering the soloist, Kevin Cole, his pleasure in the music infected the entire performance, and shall I say I was surprised to see the piano still intact at the end of the performance? I was expecting to see a smoldering heap of splinters and steel strings after the music concluded. Yes, it was that good.

Gershwin’s great buddy, Ravel, was the final composer of the night. Bolero enjoys a place in the conversation of world’s sexiest music. The composition always exceeds all expectations. My official position is that it’s not my favorite piece by Ravel, but every time I hear it, I think it’s my favorite piece by Ravel.

Every section in the orchestra glistened when given their turn to play the famous melody. I felt for the cellos, though. They sat there plucking their lives away until it was their turn to dig into the tune.

Opus Gala: San Diego Symphony (1 of 2)

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