Santa Cruz Symphony lit up local stages last weekend with Symphonic Fire, a program presenting two final works written by legendary composers Antonin Dvořák and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The program opened with Dvořák’s tremendous Cello Concerto in B Minor featuring Jonah Kim, an SCS principal cellist and two-time Grammy-winning chamber musician of international renown. As a performing artist, Kim brings all of his charismatic self to the stage with noticeable ease and authenticity. In his solo moments, he handled the technical detail and emotional substance with impressive dexterity and full-bodied expression. Kim’s uninhibited stage presence is particularly captivating and brings a refreshing, exciting quality to the formal context. By featuring musicians like Kim, SCS breaks down the proverbial fourth wall, drawing us in to the experience of classical music and making it even more lively and relatable.
In collaboration with the ever-energetic SCS orchestra, the cellist reflected the stormy, sentimental themes imbued in Dvořák’s symphonic concerto. They shared a generous musical interplay that showed a deep understanding and respect for the composition and their fellow musicians. This kind of virtuosity reminds us of what it sounds, looks and feels like to fully refine and commit to a craft, and be thrilled to share that sensitivity and skill with the world.
Following the masterful work of Dvořák and Kim, SCS gave a fiery rendition of Rachmaninoff’s last major composition, Symphonic Dances. In both the Cello Concerto and Dances, Maestro Daniel Stewart and his elegant orchestra powerfully transmitted themes of nostalgia and reminiscence. Dances echoes Rachmaninoff’s preoccupation with longing for home and delivering a victorious finale to his life as a musician. These sentiments gained extra tension and intensity under Stewart’s baton.
In moments of extended solo or as a unified collective, the musicians conveyed the mysterious quality of Rachmaninoff’s work like musical chameleons. In the second movement, their play of orchestral color during the waltz tempo contributed to a feverish, dreamy feeling of dancing between the real and the ghostly, rendered all the more ominous with allusions to the “Dies irae” melody from the Mass for the Dead. Each instrument evoked the anguished and triumphant moods of this piece to the end of every movement.
The electricity SCS can generate was established once again in Symphonic Fire. In the finale, Stewart lets the music linger into the following silence like a trail of smoke after a flame has been extinguished. It is only when the musicians finally settle that the audience remembers to breathe and ignites into applause. Musical performances like this inspire us to leave the concert hall and return to life with renewed passion and motivation.