Review: In the Baker-Baum Concert Hall, Rafael Payare conducts an exquisite San Diego Symphony

The term “classical music” refers to a wide range of styles, from JS Bach to Stravinsky. The classical era of music has a much narrower scope, from around 1730 to 1820.

The classical era is almost exclusively represented by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, but hundreds of composers were working then.

The San Diego Symphony Orchestra’s Saturday concert spotlighted one, Joseph Bologna, Knight of St. George. It’s experiencing a revival these days, as orchestras seek out works by black composers.

Principal Violin Jeff Thayer was the soloist for Violin Concerto No. 9 in G Major, Op. 8. The usual string contingent of the symphony has been reduced to the size of a chamber orchestra. The warm acoustics of the Baker-Baum Concert Hall made the strings shine. Rafael Payare’s expressive gestures from the podium drew an elegant interpretation from the orchestra. In Thayer’s hands, Saint-George’s melodies floated deliciously above the string orchestra.

I wonder if Saint-Georges, who was born on the island of Basse-Terre in the Caribbean, could have imagined that a musician from neighboring Venezuela would one day conduct his work.

After the intermission, Payare conducted the wind and horn section of the symphony in Mozart’s “Gran Partita”. Payare kept the momentum going, enjoying the beauty of the slow movements. Key contributions were made by Sarah Skuster on oboe, Sheryl Renk on clarinet, and Frank Renk and Victor Diaz on basset horns.

The evening began with a statement of solidarity for all victims of war by San Diego Symphony Orchestra CEO Martha Gilmer, followed by a string ensemble performance of the Ukrainian national anthem.

Two recent meditations on the music of the classical era preceded the Concerto de Saint-Georges. Some scholars believe that Joseph Haydn incorporated Croatian folk tunes heard in his youth into some of his symphonies. In “Haydn’s Hurdy-Gurdy” for string orchestra, Gerard McBurney imagined what these melodies might have sounded like, played on the once common hurdy-gurdy.

Alfred Schnittke’s ‘Moz-Art à la Haydn’ took fragments of an otherwise lost work by Mozart and constructed an Ivesian collage for two solo violinists, each accompanied by a small separate string ensemble one of them. other on stage.

The “Haydn” part of this work comes from its end, when the musicians leave the stage one by one, a reference to Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony”. Only two cellos and a double bass remain, sustaining their lowest notes while detuning them even lower as the conductor absurdly beats time to music that would otherwise have melted away. Schnittke asks for the lights to slowly go out on this tragicomic ending.

What we got on Saturday was a dimming of the lights, interrupted by flashes of bright light on different parts of the nearly empty stage. If this was to be an allusion to the current war in Ukraine, it didn’t read very well.

Midway through the piece, Schnittke calls for the two backing ensembles to “gradually merge” into a single string orchestra. Payare signaled it unnecessarily by loudly tapping his feet, causing the players to rush loudly to their new positions.

It is unclear why Payare made these changes to Schnittke’s stage directions. Michael Francis and the Mainly Mozart Orchestra presented a faithful rendition five years ago, and the work made a deep impression as written.

Regardless of the shenanigans that surrounded them, concertmasters Wesley Precourt and Jisun Yang brought passion and commitment to their parts.

Hertzog is a freelance writer.

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