A Model of Diversity: San Jose Chamber Orchestra Opener
by Gary Lemco
With his one encore, the first movement, Adagio sostenuto, from the Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven, San Jose keyboard darling Jon Nakamatsu put the finishing touches on a satisfying, diverse program of music offered by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra in its initial concert for the 2009-2010 season. The concert, given at Le Petit Trianon Theatre, San Jose, California, Saturday, August 30, featured music by Mozart and Charles B. Griffin (b. 1968), whose colorful Weaving Olden Dances: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra made a delightful addition to the catalogue of virtuosic works for the medium.
Conductor Barbara Day Turner began the evening with a vivacious reading of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro (1781), well familiar and ever jubilant. Infectious melodies, good interior work from bassoons, clarinets, trumpets and tympani, a lovely, homogeneous ensemble, made the bristling humor of the overture a peppy preamble to this colorful exercise of Mozart’s craft.
The big Mozart piece, the noble Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 (1784) had Jon Nakamatsu providing the keyboard spectacle, and he acquitted himself remarkably well, utilizing cadenzas by Busoni. A model of clarity in both the orchestral tissue and the keyboard part, the piece—long-familiar from its association with the Swedish film Elvira Madigan—gained by Nakamatsu’s application of a feathery, gossamer transparency in his filigree, often nuancing his long lines with a subtle diminuendo or ritard. Conductor Turner did not realize an effeminate Mozart; rather her contribution remained vigorous, forthright, even pomposo—percussive and melodic at once. The lovely Andante—with its skip of the seventh to keep the element of yearning active—enjoyed a leisurely poised rife with fluent patience. Here, the piano part attained the status of a modest coloratura singer, often musing on aspects of eternity. The finale: Allegro Vivace Assai moved briskly, in the spirit of an unbuttoned, frolicsome rondo whose time has come. The woodwind support sputtered and grumbled, cavorted and gamboled, as required for what proved a fluent, seemingly effortless collaboration of kindred spirits. Even in his black, short-sleeved shirt, Nakamatsu showed signs of wear from the inordinate heat of the building this late-summer eve, but his audience, mad with intoxication, urged him to his encore.
The musical surprise came in the form of Griffin’s four-movement Concerto for Chamber Orchestra, which might be a distant cousin of pieces like Cowell’s Persian Set. A sort of Baroque dance-suite, the music opened with a Trance Overture, in the manner of the gamelan orchestra of Bali, percussive, chiming, clangorous, brash, and declamatory. Long pedal points punctuated the interlocking rhythmic impulses. Some might have thought this music composed by Villa-Lobos. The second movement, Pavane, sounded like a medieval “chest” or “consort” of instruments, utilizing a concertante violin to intone a 13th-century cantus firmus called Novus Miles Sequitur. The third movement, Tierra de luz, Cielo de Tierra, enjoyed a concertante cello opening. The music became quite syncopated, often touching upon the world of Ginastera‘s Estancia ballet. At its climax, the music became a fugue in flamenco style. The last movement, Weaving Olden Dances, began with a viola that lisped in Irish accents, inviting us to a fierce gigue or reel that incorporates Sean Nos and Appalachian dance elements, allusions to the music for Braveheart and Aaron Copland. Almost every member of the orchestra had a virtuoso, solo run or riff to offer the color of his contribution. Eclectic it was certainly—so even Bartok may have had a hand in it—ending with something like a sea-shanty in Technicolor. But, that it was a successful vehicle for Turner and her SJCO there could be no doubt. ♫