That’s what I’m talking about.
The opening night of the Long Beach Symphony Classics season last Saturday at the Terrace Theater was everything an 80th anniversary celebration should be. There was a definite sense of occasion, and the orchestra rose to it splendidly.
Aaron Copland’s stirring “Fanfare for the Common Man” is the ideal program, and season, opener, and the LBSO’s brass and percussion set the tone for entire evening. They played with energy and excitement under the brisk, no-nonsense baton of guest conductor John DeMain (who began the proceedings with a brisk, no-nonsense national anthem), and they sounded terrific.
Terrific, too, was soloist Christopher Taylor in the Grieg Piano Concerto. He brought more sparkle and drama to the musty old warhorse than I had thought it contained, and, expertly supported by DeMain and his players, produced a dazzling, vivid performance of a piece too often taken for granted. At the end, the large audience exploded, and Taylor favored them with an encore, Scott Joplin’s “Gladiolus Rag.”
After the intermission, “Scheherazade” was a revelation. The orchestra has never, in my experience, sounded so good, and that’s saying something. With DeMain at the authoritative helm, they gave a colorful, dramatic, kaleidoscopic performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s masterpiece that was as satisfying as it was thrilling. Rimsky-Korsakov literally wrote the book on orchestration, and his works demand a brilliant performance to have their full effect. The LBSO, and DeMain, were brilliant.
All the sections contributed. The strings do most of the heavy lifting in this piece, and they were fabulous. The winds were spot-on, in some really tricky and exposed passages. The brass followed up their excellent Copland with some excellent stuff here, too, adding to the excitement. And the percussion were their usual technically impeccable selves.
A list of the distinguished solos must begin with concertmaster Roger Wilkie, whose filigree passages were not only beautifully played but also atmospheric and enchanting. Beautiful solos as well were heard from principal cello Cecilia Tsan, regular principals Heather Clark (flute), Rong-Huey Liu (oboe) and Joe Meyer (horn), and subs Mike Grego (clarinet) and Judith Farmer (bassoon).
DeMain is one of the six guest conductors to be heard this season as the orchestra searches for a new music director. He certainly has the stature and the pedigree, and, judging from this small sample size, the ability to draw exemplary playing from his orchestra.
Management insists that not all six are candidates, and that the process could take more than one season, but where’s the fun in that? I say, the bar has been set very high, and the other five guys (yes, they are all guys) have their work cut out for them. Next up is Edwin Outwater on Nov. 8.