Schwarz, Garbutt, SD Symphony deliver top Pops
By David Amos
SAN DIEGO — I do not usually go to the San Diego Symphony Summer Pops concerts, choosing instead programs with more substance and inspiration. However, the concert we attended on Saturday, September 1, was certainly of serious musical value, and lots of fun.
This was the orchestra’s traditional close to the Summer Pops season, the 1812 Tchaikovsky Spectacular. I was pleased to see the selections chosen by Matthew Garbutt, Principal Pops Conductor of the San Diego Symphony.
The program started with Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, certainly an audience pleaser, and a work I have always enjoyed conducting. With its brassy introductory fanfares, it makes for a good start to what turned out to be a most satisfying concert. The execution was precise and musical, and I was pleased to hear how well the various sections and individual musicians in the orchestra sounded. I am not only referring to the musicianship I enjoyed hearing, but also to the excellent electronic amplification of the orchestra. Every section, every solo, and the entire ensemble was well balanced at all times, and the overall effect was consistently clear and sonically correct.
This is no small task, considering that what the audience hears at the Pops Concerts at Embarcadero Marina Park South is sound coming out of speakers, not really the true acoustics of the orchestra. Nevertheless, the results were wonderful. Also, the addition of the large video screens which highlighted the conductor, the soloist, or the various orchestral sections was very well done by a crew that knew the musical score well, and focused on the section with the musical interest, at least most of the time.
The featured guest soloist for the evening was a 20-year old cellist with whom I am very familiar. Julian Schwarz has performed already twice with the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra of San Diego, which I conduct. We last performed together in April of this year, joining forces in two of the great works of Jewish expression in classical music, Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, and Max Bruch’s homage to Yom Kippur, his Kol Nidre, for Cello and Orchestra.
Julian’s musical maturity far exceeds his age. For anyone who had the pleasure to hear him in his three-plus presentations in the San Diego area in recent years, his refined playing, combined with precise technique, involvement, commitment to the music, and expression, were immediately evident. He is a young man with a serious musical career in his future, and all of us can recall with pleasure in future times that we heard him at this early stage of his life.
For the Tchaikovsky Pops concert, Julian Schwarz played the complex and intricate Variations on a Rococo Theme, Opus 33. This is an emotional work, requiring from the soloist and orchestra precise and sensitive teamwork, and I was pleased to see and hear this excellent cooperation among Schwarz, Garbutt, and the orchestra.
The second half of the all-Tchaikovsky concert started with the fourth movement of the composer’s Orchestral Suite in G Major, an extended set of a theme and variations. We do not get to hear Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suites too frequently (he composed four), but they are always a breath of fresh air, indoors or outdoors. Again, I was impressed with the fine playing of the orchestra, and of course, Matthew Garbutt should be credited for the fine results of a fairly challenging program.
No Tchaikovsky Spectacular program is complete without the 1812 Festival Overture. We all know it, and hopefully, we all love it, with its familiar themes and very noisy conclusion. Brass musicians from the Navy Band Southwest joined for the finale, and the heart-stopping canon shots and fireworks brought the evening to a festive end. Even the weather cooperated, not too hot, not too cold.
Congratulations to all.
Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has guest conducted professional orchestras around the world
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