Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Vancouver Symphony kicks off 40th season with lively all-American concert

The Vancouver Symphony kicked off its 40th season on Saturday (September 29) with solid performances of works by Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein plus a world premiere by local composer and contra-bassoonist Nicole Buetti. Japanese virtuoso Mayuko Kamio, who opened the orchestra’s concert season a couple of years ago with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, returned to Skyview Concert Hall to dazzle the audience this time with Barber’s Violin Concerto. Her appearance was all the more remarkable, because a problem with her visa almost caused her to cancel. Fortunately, Senator Maria Cantwell was able to stepped in and rescue the situation.

Kamio played the first two movements of the Barber with a warm, sweet sound and a graceful expressiveness that created a lyrical tapestry. The textures were imbued with a lush and romantic atmosphere that were almost nostalgic. The orchestra accompanied her playing with excellent dynamics, and Alan Juza set the pastoral tone of the second movement with a lovely solo.

The whirling dervish of sound in the third movement caught everyone’s attention as Kamio whipped through the fast-moving notes with incisive eloquence. Kamio’s fingers seemed to move at a speed that was humanly impossible, but the big screens on either side of the stage allowed everyone to follow along. The strings of the orchestra expertly caught fire alongside of her – earning kudos for their tight ensemble playing. As Kamio took her bows, they were applauding her vigorously – just like the listeners – with smiles everywhere.

Music Director Salvador Brotons invited Buetti to center stage to tell listeners a bit about her piece, called “Odyssey.” She explained how the piece came about through her interest in science and science fiction, which was promoted by her father.

“Odyssey” had cinematic feel that was very approachable. The opening salvo offered snarling glissandi from the brass that segued into a mysterious and slightly ominous theme for the entire orchestra. The piece grew quieter, and we could hear a melancholy duet that featured the contra-bassoon (Buetti) and tuba (Mark Vehrencamp). A flock of skittering violins interrupted the mood, which took on a new direction with a perky trio of bassoons leading the way. The rest of the orchestra became swept up into a dance-like melody, which gradually took on a more heroic flavor with all of the brass and timpani playing a prominent part. The piece ended triumphantly, and the audience responded with genuine enthusiasm and a standing ovation for the composer. It seems very likely that she will have to write another piece for the orchestra in the near future.

The Suite from Bernstein’s “Candide” in an arrangement by Charlie Harmon was performed with enough pizzazz to convey the major themes of the opera (or operetta or musical – depending on your point of view). The orchestra performed “I Am Easily Assimilated” with a snappy groove, the “Best of All Possible Worlds” percolated along, and “Make Our Garden Grow” carried plenty of emotional weight to wrap up the piece in an uplifting way. But the violins had an intonation problem on the high note at the beginning of the piece and there were some fumbled notes by the trumpets. Still, the music tickled my ears, and made me think that it would be wonderful to hear the orchestra do a concert version someday.
In similar way, the orchestra’s playing of the “Symphonic Dances” from Bernstein’s “West Side Story” got the main themes across but was a tad disjointed. The ensemble conveyed “Somewhere and “Mambo” and “Maria” with conviction, but sometimes the balance got warped, such as when the xylophone became too dominant during “Maria.” The “Rumble” section was wild enough to cause the audience to applaud, and Brotons wisely stiff-armed the noise so that the finale, the tragic “Somewhere” theme could be heard. Timpanist Forian Conzetti did an impressive amount of double duty with multiple instruments, and the percussion battery (with Diana Hnatiw on the drumset) deserved kudos for its many contributions to the underlying pulse of the piece.

Concertmaster Eva Richey serving refreshments during intermission

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