DOWNEY - Tchaikovsky's melodious but mostly plaintive Symphony No. 6 in B Minor (Op. 74), otherwise known as Pathetique, rang down the curtain on the 53rd season of the Downey Symphonic Society on Saturday that also saw a robust rendering by the 55-piece Downey Symphony of Finlandia by Sibelius, and a debut percussion symphonic piece that challenged the physicality of its up-and-coming 27-year-old creator-all under the skillful and vigorous direction of musical director and conductor Sharon Lavery.Hearing the Sixth Symphony by the composer of such well-known favorites as The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Swan Lake evoked warm feelings but learning that Tchaikovsky had only nine days to live (either from cholera or suicide) after the debut of this work, which has been described as one of "deep and turbulent emotion," cast a mournful glow on its concluding passages with the notes "fading down to a whisper by the cellos and basses." 2010 baton auction winner Bruce Rose of Colorado had his moment of glory when he began the evening's concert by conducting (rather wonderfully, I thought) a portion of the concluding part of Tchaikovsky's Overture to 1812. The year 1812 was when Napoleon invaded Russia, only to retreat ignominiously, his supply line hopelessly overextended, after the burning of Moscow. The 1812 Overture partly celebrates the Russian spirit that coped with the crisis. We are told that Rose had actually been practicing conducting this very same Tchaikovsky composition on his own since he was five, not knowing that he would one day wield a baton in front of a live symphony orchestra. (For his winning bid of $2,000 venerable arts supporter Art Morris gets to guest conduct next year). Finlandia has long been a longtime favorite of mine. It's always a pleasure to listen live to the clarinets, French horns and strings emoting the Finnish struggle against Czar Nicholas II's attempts to 'Russianize' the fjord-dotted country. Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, whose percussive elements included a five-octave marimba, five tom-toms, a bass drum, a bell tree, and four suspended bells, was well-received as it debuted here on Saturday. It had premiered in February, 2008 at USC and subsequently won for its composer and performer, tall, lanky, and world-traveled Eric Guinivan, an ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award. I am sure we'll hear more about him, already a multiple awardee, in future. Music aficionado and symphony supporter Harold Tseklenis said the society's board wanted to lend an additional visual arts touch to the performing arts experience. Warren High's George Redfox responded by providing an art and photography exhibit by his students in the theater lobby for the benefit of arriving concertgoers. It was hard not to notice the empty seats in the back of the theater. Symphonic Guild president Larry Lewis explains the situation this way in his realistic but upbeat program message to patrons and symphony friends: "These are challenging times for most nonprofit organizations because the high rate of unemployment and the difficult economy have driven down charitable contributions. But, despite these events, we have had some encouraging signs." Among them, he mentioned: the continued vitality of the Music in the Schools program, grants funding quest, loyal advertisers, and the "quality and enthusiasm of our orchestra and outstanding music director and conductor." He said that "with your continued contributions and patronage, we will do our best to continue providing excellent programs of symphonic music." Is culture dead then in Downey? I'm sure the concert audience would rise in unison on that one and cry, "Not on your life!"
********** Published: April 7, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 51