What kind of classical music do you like?
There were four different kinds of so-called classical music (i.e. Western art music) on the latest Long Beach Symphony concert at the Terrace Theater. Something for everybody.
Yes, there were two short pieces by distinguished contemporary composers, but they were not the same at all. The opening, Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten” began with Lynda Sue Marks softly intoning a chime. The strings also began quietly, and the piece proceeded with interlocking repeated motives, and that chime, in a sustained, majestic, and mesmerizing, crescendo.
After intermission, Osvaldo Golijov’s “Sidereus,” utilized a huge orchestra, and began with a forte brass proclamation that gave way to chattering strings. There was repetition here, too, but busier and more complex. All sections had their say, and the complexity was exciting. Both this and the Pärt left us wanting more, and longer, more substantial pieces in the future.
After the Pärt, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 unfolded in all its glory. Music director Eckart Preu gave this monumental work the attention, and the performance, it deserved. I have never heard Mozart, and this piece in particular, played with such character. The opening theme set the tone; both the brusqueness of the initial figure and the gentleness of its response were exaggerated, and dynamics used expressively. Taken to the extreme, this approach has its pitfalls, but Preu held things together, never lost momentum, and delivered an endlessly fascinating performance. The slow movement was enchanting and the minuet a genial dance. In both, Preu coaxed lovely soft playing from his orchestra.
The finale was magic. With each of the themes sharply characterized and contrasted, all repeats taken, and a brisk tempo set from the outset, the excitement of this incredible movement was allowed to build, and the famous quintuple fugue became, instead of a mathematical exercise, an explosion of riotous joy. This was Mozart playing, and conducting, at its finest.
Korngold’s lush, post-Romantic Violin Concerto completed the program. Korngold was a seminal film composer, leading to Max Steiner and Miklos Rosza, and ultimately John Williams; they all wrote sweeping, symphonic film scores with big themes, but Korngold was first. And there’s a lot of the feeling of movie music in this concerto. It’s beautiful, dramatic and entertaining.
Our violin soloist, Simone Porter, is a rising star, and one can see why. Her silvery tone is gorgeous, and she can overcome any technical hurdles thrown her way, of which the Korngold has several. She plays with uncommon passion and involvement in the music, and seems to enjoy what she’s doing; when not playing she would bask in the orchestral richness behind her.
She’s also a bit of a showman, and not just because of that knockout sleeveless red pantsuit. Her little ta-da gesture at the end of the daunting first movement kind of said, “so there!” A little Bach encore, tastefully played, was an effective antidote to the luxuriant Korngold, and ended the evening on a satisfying note.
This was my favorite Long Beach Symphony concert this season: great music, well chosen and exquisitely performed.