DOWNEY - There is music, and there is music. The compositions played by the Downey Symphony Orchestra in its 54th season-ending performance last Saturday were carefully, and creatively, chosen by the wonderful musical director Sharon Lavery, and they, a mixture of light and lovely as well as adagio but soulful instrumentations, didn't disappoint.First, there was the opening "Galop," a short and brisk piece taken from Shostakovitch's three-act work, "Moskva, Cheryomushki" (a region in the city of Moscow), and which was supposed to be conducted by the 2011 baton winner, Art Morris. As it happened, Morris was in recuperation at the Downey Regional Medical Hospital, and his son wielded the baton in his stead, to his dad's credit. The rather long Symphony No. 9, also by the Russian composer, followed. At times slow but mostly highlighted by playful, even buffoon-like passages, it fell afoul of the Soviet authorities (including Stalin) who were actually anticipating something akin to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" because of the Allies' (including Russia) victory in WW11. It was not strictly Wagnerian, either, just, like the program notes said, a little mischievous and comic, a little plaintive and "dark-hued," and, for me anyway, hard to pin down. After the intermission, the mood and tempo picked up when guest piano solo pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald, who has played to demanding audiences around the world, banged the piano keys forcefully as he paid homage to the technical wizardry of Liszt with the latter's dynamic Piano Concerto in E-flat major. Where Chopin or even Beethoven served sonatas on moonbeams, Liszt, once the rage of Europe and regarded as perhaps the greatest concert pianist of all time, dazzled with his virtuosity, not unlike, they say, the violin-playing of one Niccolo Paganini. Fitz-Gerald dazzled in his own way, as he played the entire concerto sans notes. Then there was the concluding, and more familiar, "Capriccio Italien" composed by Tchaikovsky, known of course for his "Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake," and "Nutcracker" scores, among others. In this lilting piece, I looked particularly for what Lars Clutterham noted earlier as one or two cadenzas "which, played in thirds by trumpets, could just as well be mariachi music." I found (heard) them, and I believed. I had to bolt out the door, though, as soon as the capriccio's last melodic note sounded, because my car battery went dead earlier, and I was very worried I might be stranded in Downey that night. To compound matters, I somehow also lost my cell phone! The situation has since been rectified, but I wish I could write music: I could very well perhaps add my bit to the capriccio repertoire.
********** Published: April 5, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 51