CON­DUC­TOR/CON­TENDER

Pasatiempo - - PASA REVIEWS - — James M. Keller

Santa Fe Sym­phony

Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, Jan. 17

Ryan McA­dams, a con­tender in the soon-to-con­clude search for the Santa Fe Sym­phony’s new prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor, re­turned on Sun­day, Jan. 17, for an­other test drive. His ini­tial ap­pear­ance, last April, ap­par­ently im­pressed the de­ci­sion mak­ers a good deal — as it did me — since he will be back for still an­other pair of ad­ju­di­ca­tory con­certs in May, given over to works by Beethoven.

As pro­gram­ming goes, last week­end’s con­cert seemed a bit of a catchall. It opened with selections from Bizet’s

Car­men Suites, pieces so en­trenched in ev­ery or­ches­tra’s col­lec­tive sub­con­scious that they ba­si­cally play them­selves. The ques­tion is whether they ought to be al­lowed to play them­selves. The per­fumed In­ter­mezzo re­ceived an el­e­gant, well-crafted in­ter­pre­ta­tion un­der McA­dams’ ba­ton, but he gave the or­ches­tra free rein in the fast move­ments, par­tic­u­larly the open­ing Les

toréadors and the clos­ing Danse bo­hème, which were chaotic in or­ches­tral bal­ance. Per­cus­sion com­pletely swamped the tex­ture, and of­ten roughshod per­cus­sion at that. (Yes, there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween good tri­an­gle tech­nique and bad tri­an­gle tech­nique.) Cymbal crashes over­pow­ered what needed to be — and, for all I know, may have been — mon­u­men­tal so­lid­ity from the or­ches­tral as a whole. In such pas­sages, the group earned an A in Aban­don but a D in Dis­ci­pline. A pro­longed re­arrange­ment of the stage fol­lowed, in prepa­ra­tion for Bach’s Or­ches­tral Suite No. 2, and McA­dams seized the oc­ca­sion to con­verse with the au­di­ence about this and that. He may have seemed overea­ger to charm, but the fact is that build­ing a per­sonal rap­port with au­di­ence and donors is an im­por­tant strand of the mod­ern mu­sic di­rec­tor’s job. The Suite was ren­dered in small scale, with McA­dams pre­sid­ing from a boxy lit­tle harp­si­chord. Jesse Ta­tum does re­li­ably ex­cel­lent work as the or­ches­tra’s prin­ci­pal flutist. She per­formed solidly as the soloist in the Suite with­out im­print­ing much of a per­son­al­ity on her in­ter­pre­ta­tion. It was not to her ad­van­tage that this ren­di­tion was over­bal­anced in fa­vor of the strings: six vi­o­lins, three vi­o­las, two cel­los, and a dou­ble bass vs. the flute. It didn’t mat­ter much in the por­tions in which her line was dou­bled by vi­o­lins (and her unisons with con­cert­mas­ter David Fel­berg were at­ten­tively phrased and tuned in tan­dem), but even in the sec­tions that spot­light the flute on its own she could re­cede into the back­ground. This left only the dou­ble of the Polon­aise and the con­clud­ing Badinerie as solois­tic high­lights, and for those she earned warm ap­plause.

The show’s big num­ber was Shostakovich’s Fifth Sym­phony, a touch­stone of the 20th-cen­tury or­ches­tral reper­toire. McA­dams con­veyed a firm con­cep­tion of the score. His read­ing was log­i­cal and easy to fol­low, achiev­ing its emo­tional high­point in the Largo, where the strings trans­ported lis­ten­ers to a deep and af­fect­ing place. Af­ter that, he in­fused the fi­nale with re­sound­ing en­thu­si­asm. His mu­si­cal in­stincts are of fine qual­ity, his con­duct­ing style grace­ful and (I would think) help­ful to the mu­si­cians. Through­out the Shostakovich, he tended to con­duct prac­ti­cally on the beat it­self. If he were to work with the or­ches­tra more, the play­ers might to­gether find a com­fort­able gap be­tween his beat and their at­tack, which could lead to greater re­fine­ment of ex­pres­sion and a more flex­i­ble flow in the phras­ing. Again in this piece the per­cus­sion could dis­ap­point. In the first move­ment, why did the tim­pani some­times ac­cent the se­cond and fourth beats of its strid­ing rep­e­ti­tions and some­times not (the lat­ter was how Shostakovich wrote the part), and shortly there­after, what pre­vented the xy­lo­phone from fol­low­ing what ap­peared to me a per­fectly clear beat from the con­duc­tor? Ku­dos, how­ever, to the tam-tam player, who hit his note in the fi­nale with per­fec­tion.

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