Last weekend the Santa Cruz Symphony presented the third classic concert of the 2017-18 Season – Songs: Past, Present, and Future. The stirring performances brought musical poetry and exceptional local and guest talent to Santa Cruz stages, and shared the Symphony’s consistent and expansive artistic vision.
The program began with the Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (“The Master Singers of Nuremberg”), Richard Wagner’s comedic opera. Part of the pleasure in experiencing the Santa Cruz Symphony is observing Maestro Daniel Stewart direct a group of musicians who understand so precisely his vibrant podium personality and every gesture. Achieving a natural ebb and flow, and producing sounds both subtle and palpable, Stewart and the musicians revealed the varying melodies of Wagner’s opera that tell the story of playful rivalry between competing singers.
This was followed by a performance of Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” featuring Metropolitan Opera star and return guest, Michelle Bradley. The songs are based on poems by Hermann Hess and Joseph von Eichendorff, and Bradley poured out a warm, soulful delivery of the poetic lyrics. Under the guidance of Daniel Stewart, the soprano and orchestra musicians proceeded at a smooth, steady, well-judged pace. All of the songs but one deal with the contemplation of death. Infused with Bradley’s captivating vocal depth, the orchestra produced a sense of calm solemnity and surges of emotion that reflected this profound theme.
The most breathtaking experience of the evening was the Symphony’s performance of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s passionate “Scheherezade”, inspired by the exotic tales of One Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights). The musicians conjured up a lush interpretation of the orchestral adventure with spine-tingling accents from harp, string, and wind instruments. Particularly striking was the Santa Cruz Symphony’s concertmaster, Nigel Armstrong. In his solo moments, the violinist managed to appear impassioned yet always unstrained and effortless with even the most delicate and demanding of notes. Between Armstrong’s precision, Stewart’s panache, and the orchestra’s rich expression, the Symphony conveyed the electricity of “Scheherezade’s” final, resplendent moments at a thrillingly high voltage.
As always, audiences noticeably spring to their feet to applaud these performances. It is no wonder that this verve is being met with exciting plans to enhance the overall experience of concerts as the Symphony reputation continues to grow as a serious force in the classical music world. The organization holds a future vision for renovating the Civic Auditorium, the home venue of the Santa Cruz Symphony and one of the community’s iconic performing arts and cultural centers.
Improving the venue acoustics and seating arrangement will further contribute to the atmosphere of the orchestra’s highly refined performances, making the experience of Santa Cruz Symphony music even more epic than it already is.