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California Composer John Adams and Rachmaninoff at San Diego Symphony

More Rigor for Rachmaninoff

Conductor Edo de Waart greets concertmaster Jeff Thayer under the Civic Theater work lights.
Conductor Edo de Waart greets concertmaster Jeff Thayer under the Civic Theater work lights.

I heard a rumor about the San Diego Civic Theater receiving an overhaul at some point in the future. Having just seen an opera production and a symphony concert at the 56-year-old venue, I hope, to all that is holy, that the rumor is true.

The San Diego Symphony concert at The Civic Theater on Saturday, March 11 was quite grim in appearance. The music-making was worthwhile but the optics were awful.

The orchestra was situated at least 15 feet upstage. This allowed room for a piano but it felt like an extreme distance when the piano wasn’t present. There was a piano or two in Escondido during the Symphony concerts and the gap between the foot of the stage and the orchestra was far less.

Video:

"The Chairman Dances"

The stage floor was both black and not black at the same time. The lighting of the orchestra appeared to be the work lights used by the crew to set up. The concert looked like a rehearsal. Fortunately, for the most part, there was music being performed and not rehearsed.

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The concert began with a selection from Nixon in China by Californian composer John Adams. I was in Nixon in China with San Diego Opera back in 2015 and came to love the opera. “The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)” is taken from the third act of the opera. Edo de Waart, a champion of John Adams, conducted. This is great music and the performance was stellar. John Adams has a musical identity that audiences can connect with.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 was up next. The orchestra was on point but pianist Ingrid Fliter never quite settled into the performance. Her opening phrases were exquisite and the legato was flawless but, from time to time, the line became a just bit jagged.

The final piece of music was Rachmaninoff’s super sexy Symphony No. 2. The opening harmonies in the woodwinds were juicy in their dissonance. The strings, after Rachmaninoff decided to stop wandering, were luscious. I was impressed. Yet, the climax of the first movement came off as somewhat subdued. This is when I began to take stock of the concert setup. The brass and percussion were so far upstage that they may as well have been off-stage. The second movement felt a bit long but the third and fourth movements were solid.

Video:

Rachmaninoff Sympthony No. 2

What I noticed the most was the effort being put in by the players. Concertmaster Jeff Thayer is not a rambunctious leader. I would imagine he isn’t a fan of histrionics. However, I have never seen him more expressive than he was during this symphony. The rest of the orchestra followed suit. I was pleasantly surprised.

The conducting of maestro de Waart was straightforward. At age 81 he is no longer a rambunctious leader but Rachamaninoff’s symphony is rambunctious at times. Perhaps this is the reason for the expressive nature of the orchestra’s performance. That’s pure conjecture but the performance felt as if it generally needed just a bit more rigor.

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Conductor Edo de Waart greets concertmaster Jeff Thayer under the Civic Theater work lights.
Conductor Edo de Waart greets concertmaster Jeff Thayer under the Civic Theater work lights.

I heard a rumor about the San Diego Civic Theater receiving an overhaul at some point in the future. Having just seen an opera production and a symphony concert at the 56-year-old venue, I hope, to all that is holy, that the rumor is true.

The San Diego Symphony concert at The Civic Theater on Saturday, March 11 was quite grim in appearance. The music-making was worthwhile but the optics were awful.

The orchestra was situated at least 15 feet upstage. This allowed room for a piano but it felt like an extreme distance when the piano wasn’t present. There was a piano or two in Escondido during the Symphony concerts and the gap between the foot of the stage and the orchestra was far less.

Video:

"The Chairman Dances"

The stage floor was both black and not black at the same time. The lighting of the orchestra appeared to be the work lights used by the crew to set up. The concert looked like a rehearsal. Fortunately, for the most part, there was music being performed and not rehearsed.

Sponsored
Sponsored

The concert began with a selection from Nixon in China by Californian composer John Adams. I was in Nixon in China with San Diego Opera back in 2015 and came to love the opera. “The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)” is taken from the third act of the opera. Edo de Waart, a champion of John Adams, conducted. This is great music and the performance was stellar. John Adams has a musical identity that audiences can connect with.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 was up next. The orchestra was on point but pianist Ingrid Fliter never quite settled into the performance. Her opening phrases were exquisite and the legato was flawless but, from time to time, the line became a just bit jagged.

The final piece of music was Rachmaninoff’s super sexy Symphony No. 2. The opening harmonies in the woodwinds were juicy in their dissonance. The strings, after Rachmaninoff decided to stop wandering, were luscious. I was impressed. Yet, the climax of the first movement came off as somewhat subdued. This is when I began to take stock of the concert setup. The brass and percussion were so far upstage that they may as well have been off-stage. The second movement felt a bit long but the third and fourth movements were solid.

Video:

Rachmaninoff Sympthony No. 2

What I noticed the most was the effort being put in by the players. Concertmaster Jeff Thayer is not a rambunctious leader. I would imagine he isn’t a fan of histrionics. However, I have never seen him more expressive than he was during this symphony. The rest of the orchestra followed suit. I was pleasantly surprised.

The conducting of maestro de Waart was straightforward. At age 81 he is no longer a rambunctious leader but Rachamaninoff’s symphony is rambunctious at times. Perhaps this is the reason for the expressive nature of the orchestra’s performance. That’s pure conjecture but the performance felt as if it generally needed just a bit more rigor.

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