Monterey Symphony unleashes its new season with verve.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Monterey Symphony opens its 2011-12 season this weekend with a bold diversity of concerts and music programs, heralded by a clean, new website not yet deep in content.
“What I like about this season,” says the symphony’s new executive director Ed Feingold, “is the variety of music – well-known pieces and ones you don’t hear enough.” They’ll visit such disparate musical corners as this weekend’s Franz Liszt (1811-1886) program, Lisztomania, which celebrates the pianist/composer/mentor’s 200th birthday on Saturday. That’s followed in November by the cryptically titled George2 + Bragado2 = “Who Cares?,” which entwines the music of George Gershwin, the choreography of George Balenchine, the baton of conductor Max Bragado-Darman, and dancers from American Ballet Theater, including Bragado-Darman’s son Julio Bragado-Young. “Who Cares?” comes from an Ira and George Gershwin showtune. Yep. Ballet and showtunes (and Tchaikovsky).
On the horizon for early next year: Cassuto’s Guide to Iberia & the Rhine, 2002 Arabian Nights, Sunrise in Scotland and the European shorts of From Fertile Ground. That’s a far-flung globe-trotting season; but I’m getting ahead of myself.
For this weekend’s (and Monday’s) opening salvo, Bragado-Darman taps the preternatural talents of guest artist Zhengyu Chan, a 27-year-old pianist who rose early to the top of a vast crop of young pianists in his native China. The orchestra starts the show with Liszt’s “Huldigungs-Marsch,” then the immaculate and confident Chan will perform the tempestuous “Maledicion” and the evocative Piano Concerto No. 1. All three pieces display Liszt’s sonic and structural range, including the “symphony poem” mode of “Maledicion” (curse) which interprets works from literature or painting. So when the symphony touts John Steinbeck as a harbinger of this season (“John Steinbeck understood that great stories must be tied to everyday places, people and ideas”), they are being partly literal. Liszt’s innovations in the symphony poem revolved around texts from Victor Hugo, Dante and others; the Arabian Nights program reflects on the stories Scheherazade told to her bloodthirsty husband, as interpreted by Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel.
Liszt was worshipped across Europe as the best virtuoso pianist of his time – a 19th century Jimmy Hendrix/Elvis. The frenzy over his live performances was dubbed “Lisztomania” (women reportedly swooned for the dashing and dramatic pianist), but he retired from paid concert performances in his mid-30s and stoked his compositional output, which would reshape the musical landscape and influence newer composers like Saint-Saëns and Wagner.
This weekend’s performances, at Salinas’ Steinbeck Institute of Art and Culture (formerly Sherwood Hall) on Saturday and Sunset Center on Sunday and Monday will conclude (barring any encores) with Paso Robles composer and organist Stephen Tosh, who chimes in on Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, aka Symphony with Organ. It’s a grand piece that has its polite moments, but breaks free now and again with exalted passages of fanfare-like volume.
Take heed of All Saints music director Dr. Todd Samra’s free pre-concert lecture one hour before each performance.
“He’s a master at helping audiences listen to the music,” says Feingold. And KUSP 88.9FM will broadcast the performance 8pm Friday, Oct. 28.
THE MONTEREY SYMPHONY opens its 2011-12 season with Lisztomania, 2pm final rehearsal ($15) and 7pm concert ($20) Saturday at the Steinbeck Institute of Art and Culture, 940 N. Main St., Salinas; and 3pm Sunday and 8pm Monday at Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel ($28-$78). 645-1120, www.MontereySymphony.org; 646-8511 for group and student rates.