Soloists appreciate playing for conductor Sharon because she is always aware of their movements, and ready to turn them over to the audience in the difficult and showy passages, of which this Concerto had plenty. The entire orchestra became involved, louder and softer and louder again.
The music glides into the Second Movement, dedicated to the son the clarinetist lost when he was 6. “I am happy when I play this,” David said, “because I see Mattiece and I am with him again.”
The melody becomes almost a lullaby and at the moments when the orchestra took the development of the theme, David stood, head bowed, and waited. The high pitch and clarity of the E flat clarinet lifts the orchestra to almost a heavenly plane, as the movement ends on a high note and then silence.
The moment was held without interruption, and then the lively, quick and complex Third Movement began. The E flat instrument is brilliant and edgy, and the piece ends with the brass leading the ensemble in a triumphant statement, flutes valiantly striving to match the clarinet, strings soaring.
The audience gave the piece and the performer a standing ovation, and standing O’s are difficult to get in Downey – and a curtain call. Shouts of “bravo” were heard as composer Oscar Navarro came up to the stage to embrace his good friend David the clarinet player, and to hug the conductor, whom he has known since his USC days, where Sharon is a professor at the Thornton School of Music.
To send the audience into the intermission happy, Mark Keller’s voice announced, “You can go out knowing that the Dodgers won.” That put them into the World Series. Later Mark confessed, “If they had lost, I never would have said anything at all.”
The buzz on the patio at intermission confirmed the success of the new composition. Bernice Mancebo Stumps, with Roy and Barbara Briley Beard, praised the performance, as did Nancy Ramage and Ruth Hillecke, board secretary. Greg Welch, president of the Rotary Club of Downey was spotted, with Adam from Senator Delgado’s office.
We missed Barbara Risher Welch, Greg’s wife and a past District Governor of Rotary. Also seen were Dr. Jose Torreblanca and wife Carmen, whose support helped bring Osar and David to the concert.
Dorothy Pemberton looked snappy in black to match the black sling holding her right arm immobile after her recent shoulder surgery. Dorothy now heads PTA HELPs, a food pantry for needy families, and her other arm was scratched, having been mauled by her own cat Cosmo when she tried to rescue it at midnight from neighbor dogs. Never a dull moment with Dorothy.
Frank Kearns commented that he had met David during rehearsals. “Great performers are transformed when playing,” Frank said. It’s like what Allen Ginsberg said about meeting Bob Dylan in his early electric days at a Newport Folk festival when Dylan performed his first electric concert.
For the second part of the program, Alberto Ginastera’s Estancia had Conductor Sharon practically dancing on the platform to the Argentine rhythms. And then the 17-minute show piece of the evening, Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” began, innocently enough, with just a flute carrying the melody and a single snare drum tapping a quiet beat.
The cellos and basses pluck their strings, as does the harp, signaled by delicate finger gestures from the hand of the conductor. The shadows and tension grow deeper as more instruments, a saxophone, then the brasses and woodwinds, join in. The bolero is a dance rhythm, and the audience unconsciously nods and begins to sway, tapping their fingers or toes in time to the beat.
Still the violins and basses hold off and pluck their strings, the players cradling their instruments like a ukelele. Oboes and bassoons take up the insistent melody, and the uninterrupted plucking and tapping became more demanding, as Sharon’s arm movements and shoulders grow heavier.
Cellos held back, as do the big drums until at last the suspense is broken and the full orchestra, strings leading, takes up the melodic theme and everything rises to a crashing crescendo with tympani, bass drum, cymbal, gong and a high piercing E flat clarinet wildly changing key in the last few phrases until, with a flourish of the baton, it is over. The audience applause was deafening.
At the champagne reception on the patio afterward, to which all the audience was invited, artist and host of the Green Salon Roy Shabla commented how “the Bolero is so familiar, no one takes it seriously. Until tonight, with Sharon’s interpretation.” Bill Hare, Treasurer of the Symphonic Society Board, allowed as how the evening was a success.