ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald
Under late afternoon sunny skies, the Festival Orchestra had its own Olympic moment Saturday. Conductor Guillermo Figueroa and company unexpectedly delivered celebratory music for Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympics.
Joyous and energetic, Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture opened the concert. Two hours later, Figueroa concluded with a massive, energetic musical odyssey, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor. In between, the orchestra partnered Yeon Min Park in the opening movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. All in all, it was a splendid summer evening, appropriately called “Classical Brilliance.”
The Brahms’ overture is known for its high spirits as it contains references to popular student songs of the late 19th century. Figueroa launched the piece by emphasizing its mysterious sense of a low, distant march. Soon, the brass choir announced the first student song, and with strings rhythmically creating an irresistible momentum, Figueroa shifted the mood into the overture’s rousing, rolling midsection. Periodically, muted trumpets pierced the texture to give off some sparks, and Figueroa brought the light-hearted work to a stately conclusion. Although perhaps unintended, Figueroa’s expansive rendering of Gaudeamus igitur, known even to Americans for its echo of Ivy League life, felt like a tribute to the Olympic Games.
Schumann’s only piano concerto followedm featuring 21-year-old Yeon Min Park. A student of Aviram Reichert, whom he brought to the conservatory this summer along with other young musicians from South Korea, Park played with calm assurance. After a brief and bold musical strike by strings and timpani, Park set forth the first figure. Then, oboist Erin Hannigan introduced the major theme, quickly joined by the winds, and Park plunged into one of the most beautiful conversations between soloist and orchestra in the concerto repertoire.
In her cadenza, Park deftly explored all of Schumann’s thematic material before Figueroa brought the orchestra back for a final big arc of sound and a swift and stirring conclusion. Of course, the audience wanted to hear the rest of the concerto, but that’s the way of competitions these days – we only get a glimpse.
In the competition recital July 16, Park was one of 12 finalists. The field was impressive, and Park captured the grand prize entitling her to play with the Festival Orchestra in Saturday’s concert. She also performed at the Conservatory Piano Institute concert June 21, along with 10 other students. The piano contingent has been particularly strong this summer thanks to both Reichert and Conservatory Piano Institute Director David Korevaar.
At the Conservatory Institute recital – which was free – Park played Chopin’s Barcarolle, Op. 60. A long, lyrical piece, the Barcarolle is full of sweetness, pathos and force. Park played the work from memory with sensitivity and forthrightness. Like her Chopin interpretation, Park’s Schumann performance with the orchestra revealed a remarkably mature performer.
Saturday’s big orchestral concert came to a gratifying conclusion with what may be one of Figueroa’s favorite symphonies. He said as much in his introductory remarks. Then, he took command of the orchestra masterfully navigating from the oceanic first movement through the highly agitated seas of the second, the elegant third and a spellbinding fourth. Credit clarinetist Paul Garner for exquisite solo work, especially in the adagio.
Figueroa conducted with the assurance he’s famous for, shaping tempi with ease, controlling even the most gradual crescendos with care, and encouraging the players to dig into accents and broaden bowing for expressive effect.
Before he conducted the Mendelssohn, Figueroa cautioned the audience not to make too much of titles, referring to the composer’s “Scottish Symphony.” The work may have been inspired by a trip to Scotland, but it is not a tone poem or musical travelogue, Figueroa said. As presented by the Festival Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony turned out to be a grand and nuanced musical masterpiece.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.