On Sunday night, the Marin Symphony presented a performance that highlighted its season’s theme of symphonic music of dance by presenting a program of three ballets. Although very different, the unifying theme in the three presented pieces was the dramatically picturesque music that translates as appropriate music of a full-length ballet, with Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations” being a bit of an exception (choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon last year as an abstract ballet for the New York City Ballet). But even with the Tchaikovsky, all three pieces painted colors in bright, lucid colors that made for a dramatic yet vibrant evening.
Despite distracting hokey details from the title “Cello and Courtship” to the literal translation of the first piece, The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, with the donning of a Mandarin suit by conductor Alasdair Neale, it’s a relief that the priorities of this orchestra lies in its commanding presence and innovative soloists. I’ve been most impressed by the choice of soloists this symphony continues to pick for its programs. With pianist Orion Weiss at the first concert I saw (who made my Best of 2008 list) and Naumburg International Cello Award winner cellist David Requiro, the Marin Symphony has picked young yet wildly exciting musicians practically bursting with potential and surprise (in a good way). These two soloists have rightly intrigued and brought audiences to their feet with intelligence and most importantly, stellar musicianship. As the soloist for Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations”, 23 year old cellist David Requiro played the graceful theme and variations with an airy ease and touches of whimsy. Displaying impressive command and imaginative thought, Requiro played with a refreshing directness, lack of waffling pretension, and beautifully long, never-ending phrasing. The soloist and the orchestra collaborated warmly, tossing the melody effortlessly from one to the other, emphasizing the intimate, chamber music-like heart of this piece with a quiet refinement. Requiro showed us that subtlety can speak the loudest of all, and his engaging performance was full of delight and a gentle humility appropriate to the playful loveliness of this piece.
More striking than their earlier performance, the Marin Symphony performed with a commanding presence, most likely contributed by the much loved conductor, Alasdair Neale, who coaxed the orchestra into a full, resonating sound and led with charm. The interpretations of these three pieces weren’t keenly original or unique, yet satisfying and appropriate to the demands of the music. The program opened with Bartok’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, filled with unapologetic cacophany. Its lusty story was described by Neale before the piece began; although the story was hard to follow once the music started, the twists and turns of the music made for a speedy (albeit murky) ride. The “alluring” clarinet as Neale described wasn’t merely alluring without a taunting note of sarcasm, with danger in the short, staccato deep dissonant notes in the cellos. The piano is bright with a biting edge. The trombones make a strong showing with a technically difficult performance played with panache. The program ended with selections from the passionate yet unabashedly beautiful Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The exultant Folk Dance comes to life with warm camaraderie. The visual highlight was the appearance of dancers from the Smuin Ballet, Aaron Thayer and Erin Yarbrough-Stewart, as Romeo and Juliet. Yarbrough-Stewart was a quintessential Juliet, a beautiful performer in portraying the young innocence of the character with a lovely completeness in her dancing that was mesmerizing. Thayer was an eager and ardent Romeo, with a slightly awkward gangliness that added to his boyish charm. With his height and long extensions, Thayer was most affected by the limited physical stage space; aside from a few slips, they danced admirably despite limited constraints. Although I’m still uncomfortable with the message that the music alone is not enough for a symphony concert, even I have to admit that the ballet dancers was a welcome addition that personified the swelling strains of Prokofiev’s music through dance. The concert ended with the Death of Tybalt,Â an appropriate death music for an arrogant antihero – an intro full of bravado ensued by a galloping chase, sudden interruptions, and a slow deliberate march that grows to alarming proportions, and ends in a bang. It was an impressive and appropriately dramatic end to this symphonic program.
There’s one more performance on Tuesday January 20, at 7:30 PM. Click here for more information.Â