The Santa Cruz Symphony spun a musical fantasy in Rites of Spring, the second concert of the 2018-19 season featuring work by Debussy, Gershwin, and Stravinsky.
As much as Santa Cruz Symphony (SCS) performances are uniquely interpretive, they also show a remarkable understanding of the composers’ visions. Opening the program with Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”, the orchestra illustrated his intended images of a panpipe-playing faun flirting with nymphs in the sultry afternoon heat. Maestro Daniel Stewart conjured up this sunny atmosphere and amorous pursuit like a wizard, transporting audiences to a warm place with sensual performances by his musicians. From the first delicate, intoxicating flute solo to the sumptuous, wide-ranging sound of the orchestra in full bloom, the musicians produced a narrative that was magical and seductive.
Next was a deliciously fresh and vivacious performance of George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”. SCS musicians showed brilliant classical technique fused with a sensitivity for Gershwin’s jazzy inflections. The orchestra swept us out of the concert hall and on a stroll around bustling Parisian streets with nostalgic and expressive sounds. Strings and brass created a lively impression of the charm and chaos of a city and its people. Hats off to percussionists Norman Peck, Kris Lou, Kumiko Ito, and Ben Paysen, who created the recognizable outbursts of urban noises with excellent timing and upbeat energy.
In the same way that “Prelude” pulled us in with the notes of a single flute, the bassoon solo that opens Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” introduced the mysterious tone of the piece with a clear, haunting sound. These solo moments bring attention to the individual artistry of each orchestral musician. Throughout the performance, everyone in the venue remained intensely focused, including the musicians, conductor, and audience. Maestro Stewart’s range from subtle signs to passionate gestures of the baton helped us participate in the emotional dynamics of the music. The musicians smoothly navigated the complex rhythmic structures and changeable moods of Stravinsky’s piece — each soft phrase, dramatic eruption or sudden shock of silence was impeccably controlled and synchronized by the orchestra.
The audience appears to breathe along with and react to Stewart’s direction, and the music becomes so absorbing that even the pauses between each movement are powerful. Whether evoking the atmosphere of a faun’s adventures, the contagious energy of a French city, or the mysterious qualities of nature evolving, the SCS orchestra does an exceptional job depicting diverse worlds and keeping the legacies of Debussy, Gershwin, and Stravinsky alive.
Get your tickets for upcoming performances of the 2018-2019 season at santacruzsymphony.org