Musical Notes Graphic

If this is how the season is going to go, count me in.

The Long Beach Symphony’s opening night concert, the orchestra’s 85th, Saturday night at the Terrace Theater, was an evening-long festival of fabulous playing and intelligent programming.

After a particularly robust national anthem, traditional on these occasions, music director Eckart Preu got down to business.

I know the symphony has never played György Ligeti’s “Concert Românesc” (Romanian Concerto) before, because they’ve never played any Ligeti, one of the 20th Century’s most distinguished composers. And while the conservative Long Beach audience might be put off by some of his music, they had nothing to fear from this early work. It’s based on Romanian folk tunes, and has an uninhibited, raucous feel to it that is immediately attractive.

The first movement is lovely and inconsequential. The second is wild, and featured some virtuoso piccolo playing from Jenni Olson. The slow third was distinguished by beautiful woodwind and horn solos, and then in the fourth all hell broke loose. A frenetic country dance, with some crazy fiddling from concertmaster Roger Wilkie, the piece dazzled and enchanted. It was more than a little weird, but I liked it.

I think I know why the Dvořák Violin Concerto isn’t as popular as the composer’s cello concerto, or the contemporaneous work by Brahms. The tunes aren’t as memorable, and the whole thing is pretty loosely constructed, only catching fire in the infectious third movement. That said, Dvořák is Dvořák, and though the piece meanders, it’s some beautiful meandering.

Our soloist was young Paul Huang, and he was a marvel. Technically assured, with a profound musicality and a gorgeous sound, he obviously loves the piece and made the most of it. He stayed very close to Preu throughout; the two were beautifully in sync. And that third movement is irresistible.

The audience demanded, and got, an encore. I know music critics are supposed to be omniscient, but I didn’t know what the contemporary-sounding, fiendishly virtuosic work was. Fortunately, a mole in the organization spilled the beans; the encore was excerpts from the Red Violin Caprices by John Corigliano, and Huang tossed it off masterfully.

I don’t really care for Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, which puts me in the distinct minority. But if anything would make me appreciate the piece, it would be a performance like the one Preu led. Colorful, full of propulsive energy, and featuring some amazingly transparent textures, the performance was dramatic without being overly emotional, and never lost momentum.

The most striking feature was the exquisite playing. The string body had a lushness and sheer beauty that was a joy to experience, but it was the wind solos that stood out. Regular principals Gary Bovyer (clarinet) and Rong-Huey Liu (oboe) did exemplary work, as did guests Diane Alancraig (flute) and Jonathan Stehney (bassoon). Teag Reeves’s second movement horn solo was a highlight.

Like I said: if all of the subsequent symphony concerts are as gorgeously played as this opening night, I’m in.

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