With San Diego Symphony Music Director Jahja Ling’s gaze fixed on the orchestra’s tour at month’s end, it was no surprise that he opened the 2013-14 season Friday (Oct. 4) with a generous sampling of the music they will take to New York City and China. The young German violinist Augustin Hadelich gave a sumptuous performance of Samuel Barber’s much-loved Violin Concerto, a work that will be featured on the China tour, and Ling offered his muscular interpreation of Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, which will be featured at the orchestra’s Carnegie Hall debut on Oct. 29.
The Carnegie Hall concert will also feature Lang Lang playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, but local symphony fans will not get their Lang Lang preview until Oct. 26, when the Chinese superstar visits Copley Symphony Hall for a single concert the weekend before the orchestra leaves for the east coast.
Friday’s program opened with the world premiere of David Bruce’s “Night Parade,” a work commissioned by the orchestra especially for the tour. A bustling urban tone poem that evokes a city with a more teeming, colorful night landscape than we know in San Diego, Bruce’s 14-minute work engaged the full resources of the orchestra, although myriad flamboyant solos in the wind and percussion sections dominated its dense texture, keeping the strings in a more accompanimental role.[php snippet=1]
A much sought-after composer for commissions, Bruce is no more afraid of tonality than was Barber when he wrote his Violin Concerto in 1941, although Bruce does not indulge in the soaring, emotional melodies that Barber loved and wrote so well. In “Night Parade,” as well as in the Bruce chamber works I have heard, his abundant themes were short, concise, and he moved from one idea to the next with the agility of an Olympic sprinter. During the performance of “Night Parade,” I heard echoes of the traffic noises in Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and was reminded of some of the edgy, film noir shadows of John Adams’ 2009 “City Noir” championed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“Night Parade” proved to be quite audience friendly, and the composer was called back to the stage several times after its first performance. Since Bruce has been named the orchestra’s Associate Composer and more commissions from him are forthcoming, I hope we can hear this work again soon. It could certainly engage a summer audience on a more classicaly-oriented program, and there is no reason we should not hear it again next season.
Unapologetic about Barber’s heart-on-the-sleeve Romanticism, Hadelich vented the full emotional impact of the Violin Concerto’s opening movement, imbuing every sweeping line with his rich, creamy string sonority, and the orchestra supported him with an unusually lush, unified accompaniment. As is his wont, Ling partnered the soloist with unabated empathy.
Principal Oboe Sarah Skuster opened the middle movement Andante with a slender but winning solo that communicated all the composer’s wistful ambivalence about the human condition, and Hadelich eloquently continued that mood when it was his turn. The perpetuum mobile of the finale came across slightly anticlimactic after the soaring brilliance of the previous movements, but it was still a cogent reading of the Presto.
Hadelich’s encore was Paganini’s “Caprice No. 9,” a restrained but meticulous recreation of its delicate intricacies.
Kudos to maestro Ling for choosing the Prokofiev Fifth Symphony for the Carnegie Hall Concert. Although it is hardly obscure, it does not get the frequent programming of, say, the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony which preceded it by several years and carries the added “glamor” of its connection with Stalin’s artistic meddling.
Working from memory, Ling confidently built each movement with a clear pacing that revealed both the work’s grand architecture and its emotional depth. The somber third movement, the Adagio, came across not so much as an elegy to the war dead (the Symphony was completed in 1945), but as a striking, profound monument to survival. Ling’s exuberance on the podium at the end of the Allegro giocoso had that note of well-earned triumph—for both orchestra and its conductor. And I would be unforgivably remiss if I did not praise Principal Clarinet Sheryl Renk for her fluid, exquisite solos in the final movement.