Fun fact: Long Beach has two symphony orchestras.
You know all about the Long Beach Symphony. But if you like symphonic music, and want to hear it played well, also check out the Bob Cole Conservatory Symphony, whose latest concert was at the Carpenter Center the other night.
There are a couple reasons for this group's excellence. One is a conductor who knows his stuff, a superb musician with a knack for training young players. That would be Johannes Müller-Stosch, who also leads the Orange County Youth Symphony and has a professional orchestra in Michigan.
Then there's the talent and dedication of the players themselves. The conservatory's growing reputation enables the school to attract the cream of the national crop of young instrumentalists. You hear the result in the skill of the solo winds, the firm tone of the brass, and the full, rich sound of the strings. They play with a youthful energy that's a pleasure to hear.
This varied program was not an easy one. Schubert's Symphony No. 8, the "Unfinished," is as introverted and classical as Erich Wolfgang Korngold's overture to "The Sea Hawk" is exuberant and Romantic. And then there's "Petrushka."
Igor Stravinsky's second of three big ballet scores, after "The Firebird" and before "The Rite of Spring," is a challenge for any orchestra, and most of these kids hadn't played it; Müller-Stosch asked those who hadn't to stand, and it was pretty much everybody.
"Petrushka" is technically daunting and rhythmically complex, with kaleidoscopic shifts of mood and texture. The 1911 original version calls for a huge orchestra, and a lot can go wrong. Not much did, a tribute to the hard work of these gifted young musicians, and to Müller-Stosch's firm beat and command of the work's overall structure.
At first the playing seemed, perhaps understandably, careful and a bit tentative, but by the end things were confident and vigorous. Along the way there was accomplished solo work from trumpet, flute, and piano, spot-on contributions from the percussion, impressive coordination between sections, and excellent execution overall.
Before there was John Williams there was Korngold; the latter's lush symphonic film scores were a model for those who followed. And if this was a test to see if these strings and this brass section could approximate the full, rich sound of a studio orchestra, they passed with flying colors.
Graduate student David Scott led a tidy, expressive, and well-modulated performance of the Schubert, highlighted by some lovely wind playing, especially from the clarinet. I was a little surprised in a short program that Scott didn’t observe the first movement repeat, which I consider essential.
So this is not just an excellent student orchestra; it's an excellent orchestra, period, and it deserves a larger and broader audience.
Music lovers, take note.