Back in April of 2014, the first of the H.P.O.’s candidates for music director conducted an awesome performance of Saint-Saëns violin concerto and Beethoven’s Pastorale 6th symphony. Her post-concert answers and rationales to queries by yours truly were succinct and coherent. To say that we were impressed would be an understatement and a subtle hint of our selection choice was hidden within the column. We’re pleased that she was selected and join the rest of the Hamilton community in welcoming her. Last evening’s concert highlighted contemporary (sort of) Russian composers.
The program under Gemma New opened with a modern composition by Kelly-Marie Murphy entitled ‘A Thousand Natural Shocks’. Introduced with a dynamic percussion trio and the orchestra effectively enhanced with the woeful sound of conchs, this creation seems perfect for a theme and plot background during any episode of ‘Hawaii 5-0’. Under New’s rendering, this scribe kept recalling those early demonstrator records that enabled possessors of innovative stereophonic sound equipment to show off. I nearly wore out the ‘Aloha Oe’; “Miserlou” & “Whatever Lola Wants” tracks on my own copy of Persuasive Percussion, Vol 1.
The guest soloist was Katherine Chi performing Prokofiev’s piano concerto No. 3. Considered the most popular of his five concerti, it is not one of this scribe’s favorites but as an exhibition of technical challenge that demands much of both soloist and conductor; the piece serves a purpose. Chi was technically perfect; her tempi changes were smooth and effortless and was textbook andante. This work’s 2nd movement is entitled ‘tema on varazioni’ or cadence variations and she again changed gears like a Ferrari. This was a methodical interpretation that was totally disciplined. Her allegro finale displayed more emotion than scrutinization of the composition. The metronomic cadence was so hypnotic that the audience could notice the percussionists using their sticks to mirror the conductor. Somehow, Miss Chi failed to raise any of those reliable hackles on neck or arm-hairs that denote an emotional response from writer.
The major work of the evening was Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 1. This somewhat short (½ hr.) piece is in three distinct movements and was originally composed as the teenaged prodigy’s graduation exercise. Shostakovich underwent a love/hated relationship with the Russian establishment. Received awards; then criticized as vulgar and banished from opportunities. Fortunately, no executions like many of his associates and family. This selection was a showpiece for the H.P.O’s musicians and its neoteric conductor.
The opening allegretto (with the famous flute solo backed by pizzicato celli & bass) afforded the conversant audience members to discern maestress New’s style and conducting personality. She is NOT a Muti or Von Karajan but is definitely in charge. One easily recognizes that there is already a consensus of interpreting and performing. The 2nd movement allegro displays the percussion section; winds as well as piano and triangle proffering the motive.
During the multi-tempo’ed finale there is a solo performed by the concertmaster and Steven Sitarski drew out every scintilla of melodic phrase for which the piece is famous. His accentuation was contributed by the 2nd violins and muted cellos.
Milady is off to a strong and impressive start. We may have to share her with New Jersey; Maryland and Los Angeles, but this paper hopes that she makes Hamilton her ‘home base’.