Ray Chen, a.k.a. Inigo Montoya
  • Ray Chen, a.k.a. Inigo Montoya
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Ray Chen playing an encore - Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

The San Diego Symphony concert on Saturday, May 9, was as hot as Seville in August — maybe hotter. (I’m not sure, since I’ve never been to Seville, but I can imagine.)

Violinist Ray Chen was the star of the first half of the concert as the soloist in Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. The audience response was immediate and boisterous. Some began applauding even before the music ended. Chen reciprocated with an encore of Paganini’s Caprice No. 21.

Lalo’s music reminded me of Scheherazade with the solo violin weaving a story not of 1001 Arabian Nights but of something quintessentially Spanish. The specifics of the story might elude us but the tale was full of adventure and romance.

Perhaps the story Lalo and Ray Chen were telling was about a solitary young Spaniard of noble descent wandering the dusty streets of Seville, pandering his poetry to the common folk in a Quixotic effort to enrich their lives as they toiled for their daily bread.

Perhaps the dashing Mr. Chen’s name was Inigo Montoya and someone killed his father and should prepare to die. Although, I might give a six-fingered-man the advantage in a violin competition. In case you're wondering, Mr Chen is quite dashing in reality.

It makes no difference. The performance was equal to the composition in it’s brilliance and Andalusian energy.

The Ravel was tight as tight could be. Again, the music was openly Spanish and the execution by the orchestra was spotless. I Can't say enough about the virtuosity of the orchestra in this concert.

Stephen Hough Plays Beethoven

The Three Cornered Hat by de Falla was the concluding piece of the night and it too blasted its way into our ears and hearts. I don’t want to give the impression that the concert was all flash and blast. There were passages of exquisite lyricism which the orchestra lavished upon us with all the hyperbolic tenderness of a Spanish lover.

After drenching us with dulce de leche, next weekend the symphony gives us a healthy dose of musical ultragreens with Beethoven and Brahms. It will be the concluding concert of the 2014-15 Jacobs Masterworks Season.

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