Cheshire Grins Shared With Our Maestro

We’re still sporting cheshire grins from the Oakland East Bay Symphony concert on Friday evening, after experiencing three performances with sheer attitude.  Maestro Michael Morgan knowingly smiled and made the unusual something that symphony goers could simply embrace.

Let’s start with Charles Ives’ Second Symphony (listen), written over 110 years ago.  Our conductor gave advanced warning about the pastiche of tunes and abrupt ending, yet assured us that Ives behaved himself by sticking to one key.  It was a real trip to hear the musicians making their way around and through this piece.  While the music was beautiful, we were truly teased here.

After intermission, Rebeca Mauleon’s Suite Afro-Cubano was premiered to our audience.  This music took us through Cuban settlement and history.  We needed to toss away our preconceived notions of an orchestra, as instruments were drawn into the stories.  By the time the orchestra members shouted “Mambo,” everyone in the theater seemed ready to celebrate.

That high energy fed right into the last piece, Duke Ellington’s Harlem Suite.  We hadn’t really thought of Duke in this larger venue, complete with familiar crooning brass.  Who needs a big band when you can one-up with a full orchestra instead?  Very nice.

We hope this weekend’s performance reflects the present and future of symphony orchestras.  In that spirit, our East Bay performers are still putting out their hats and asking for donations – and they deserve our support.

Quick Review Of “Armenian” Symphony

Last night we attended a performance by the Armenian Symphony, better known as the Oakland East Bay Symphony.  Their 2.5 hour concert was inspiring because the arc of the programming, as major symphonic works took center stage.

The program started with a traditional Mozart warm-up, which sounded beautiful in the Paramount Theater.  Then the epic Khachaturian took us on a journey, filled with many different themes including a little folk music – and it was clearly the high point of the evening.

After intermission, a modern-sounding Mirzoyan was performed with plenty of tension and sadness.  Then four shorter works followed, including “symphonic panels” appropriately titled Armenia and two full-bore choral and orchestral songs.  We noticed a lot of people applauding those final vocals!

Virtuoso Appearance: The guest violinist, Mikhail Simonyan, has Armenian roots and lives in NYC these days.  Simonyan is only in his twenties, yet seemed at ease while performing Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D Major.  Right off the bat, you could hear his joy.  If I had one criticism, then it was when the folk-inspired section arrived with a bunch of lackluster lower notes.  Yet the entire performance was amazingly energized – here, here!

Mirzoyan Piece: This four-movement symphony was a conversation between strings and kettledrums.  Composer Edvard Mirzoyan’s an 88-year-old who hasn’t created many symphonies, and this work should be better known.  There were some themes and sections that captivated us, especially all the repetitive notes among the strings.  While written back in 1962, the music sounded modern and offered an intense, aural landscape.

Overall Review: We’ll give the concert a B+ tonight.  We have to say this was extra-ambitious!  You could feel the excitement in the Paramount, as our hometown orchestra performed these sophisticated and cool masterworks.  They modulated really well and didn’t overplay, and I give props to Michael Morgan’s podium leadership.  The Khachaturian symphony drew the biggest ovations last night, but we think it’s darn difficult to perform.  The last vocal pieces also were lovely, but we wanted more of them.

We have to share one thumbs-down from the evening, though.  We didn’t understand the penchant for applauding at the end of movements.  Clearly the orchestra ignored the mid-symphony applause and stayed focused on their performances.  Could local concert-goers please get it together?