The Santa Cruz Symphony began its 2018-19 season last weekend with a program featuring world-renowned soloists from the Berlin Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera.
The season’s opening concert was an exciting reminder of Maestro Daniel Stewart’s imagination as Music Director. Through his visionary leadership, the Santa Cruz Symphony (SCS) continues to introduce us to internationally acclaimed guest artists. Their remarkable performances are matched by the chameleon-like abilities of our local musicians who easily adapt to diverse musical styles.
Opening with Mikhail Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla showed the Santa Cruz orchestra at its best. Under Stewart’s baton the musicians merged as a powerful ensemble. In their fiery performance of Glinka’s Russian piece every instrument sprang vividly to life, each individual solo was played with intensity, and together they produced the kind of orchestral fireworks that make staying seated a challenge.
Following this was the highly anticipated spotlight on Noah Bendix-Balgley, the prize-winning first Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, performing the West Coast premiere of his Klezmer violin concerto, Fidl-Fantazye. As well as extensive training in classical music, the violinist had an early introduction to Eastern European klezmer music through his father’s professional folk dancing. Heavily influenced by the classical composer Mahler (and many others) who used folk melodies as musical inspiration, Bendix-Balgley combines the two traditions in his innovative concerto. In a spirited musical dance with the orchestra, he brought the spontaneous element of the klezmer style to the classical concert stage with full-bodied emotion and lightening-like speed.
As much as we were swept up in the energetic whirlwind of the program’s first half we were then lulled by a soothing rendition of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 for its finale, featuring an elegant guest soloist from the Metropolitan Opera, Soprano Meigui Zhang. Mahler intended his symphony’s character to convey a leisurely, peaceful progression from earthly burdens to heavenly comforts. Led by Stewart’s smooth gestures and intermingling with Zhang’s warm and uplifting vocals, the orchestra transmitted the inherent qualities and celestial mood of Mahler’s composition with a soft, expansive performance.
The concert was a synthesis of talents and traditions; an experience that gave listeners and performers alike an opportunity to appreciate music through both familiar and forward-thinking arrangements.
The second program of the 2018-2019 season continues with Rites Of Spring on October 27-28, 2018. Tickets are available at santacruzsymphony.org