Review by Danny & Terry Gaisin
Objectivity is a basic precept of criticism or assessment. So, to be impartial when writing about a performer who is also a longtime friend; our evaluation of Lara St. John is a collaboration. Conclusion- she still entrances and mesmerizes her audience. Executing the demanding Korngold violin concerto in D; St. John demonstrated that in addition to a faultless technical talent, she has lost none of the mischievous mannerisms that so endeared her to us pre- NYC and the myriad orchestral solo opportunities she has enjoyed. Like Shauna Roulston, she permits moments of elated animation insert itself into her posture and interpretation.
The audience’s philistine applause following the end of the 1st movement – moderato, was impulsive & reactionary to a superlative interpretation. The finale allegro movement with its pizzicato coda was executed aggressively and the soloist/strings dialogue demonstrated that Gemma New’s HPO musicians are equal to the demanding standard of such a guest artist. Both performed with confidence and aplomb.
The concert’s opening work was Strauss’ tone poem ‘Don Juan’. Only 18 minutes long [19+ by Van Karajan!); Maestra New placed the 4th horn (Christine Passmore?) beside Lindskoog’s harp and the woodwinds – probably for acoustic emphasis. Ms. New has a most intriguing peripatetic manner on the podium; reflecting her emotional involvement with both the composition and her interpretation thereof. The theme or coda that dominates the final 4 minutes is impossible NOT to hum along; or refrain from continually hearing it subconsciously resound.The major work of the evening was Stravinsky’s PETROUCHKA (or Petrushka), a ballet burlesque composed for Nijinsky and dealing with three puppets (think Punch and Judy) and the antics of the dancer; the Moor and the swindler. Like ‘Bolero’, this work offers musicians solo opportunities as each instrument paraphrases the sounds or action of the interpreted puppets. A bassoon breaks wind; the piano is implemented two fingered, (pianist John Wilson confessed to using four!); and Iadeluca’s percussion team required 3 others. Brilliantly executed, this piece epitomized the level that New’s first season as artistic director has brought the H.P.O. An amazing finale.
Post-concert, there was a reception to afford the audience the opportunity to visit the musicians’ close-up and personal. Meeting Board vice-chair Wayne Poirier, we had the opportunity to congratulate him and the selection committee on choosing Gemma New to replace Sommerville. On the record, he told us about the intensity and duration the team applied to assure success and that the final choice would be amenable to the orchestra members; the supporters, and especially the musically erudite audience adherents & subscribers. It also offered us an occasion to suggest the now would be a good time for our H.P.O. to start offering some CD’s or recordings, to an admiring public! In discourse with principal 2nd violinist Bethany Bergman, we were talking about the commitment (educational, financial & professional) needed for someone to choose an artistic career. Her rationale –verbatim: – “Ultimately the performing arts is a way of acknowledging that we are in this human experience – together”. How insightful and succinct… a philosophy that mirrors the quote that is our O.A.R. banner-head slogan.