Be careful what you wish for.
The San Juan Symphony opened its 26th season Sunday with pianist Norman Krieger and a second hearing of Sam Cardons Song of the Mountain Poets. Both have been on my wish list for a while. Krieger, who almost has a deep-time history with Durango, the orchestra and Fort Lewis College, came back to play Beethovens Piano Concerto No. 3. A year ago, when the orchestra premiered Cardons short, atmospheric piece, I wrote that it needed to be heard again.
Well, I got exactly what I wished for in Sundays inspiring concert.
Cardons five-minute work is overture material, perfect for bringing an audience to the musical table. Music Director and Conductor Arthur Post waited until the hall hushed before he gave the downbeat. And then barely audible strings ushered in a tremulous opening passage. As Cardons title suggests, the piece evokes dawn, then a shimmering morning and stormy afternoon in the mountains.
Natural metaphors are appropriate. Although new, this is old-fashioned program music. A Farmington native, Cardon is a successful film music composer, and the style is evident in his tone painting and general accessibility. Yes, the orchestra should keep Cardons jewel in the repertoire and play it again and again.
The theme of this concert was Family & Friends. Post invited Krieger back for obvious reasons. The pianist has been a regular soloist with the symphony since the 1990s under Jan Roshong. Krieger then became the first Artist in Residence at FLC.
Much anticipation was in the air when Krieger strolled out on stage in black with a grey vest, a bit older and grayer than when last here. Hes now professor of piano at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California, and continues a rigorous performance and recording career.
Krieger gave Beethovens third concerto a clear and expressive reading. During the first movements cadenza, almost a full 4 minutes, the orchestra sat perfectly still for Kriegers brilliant rendering. He injected a sparkling sense of sunlight in the pianos highest register. In the Largo, Krieger all but breathed on the keys for a barely audible entrance. Quiet and reverent, the slow central movement seemed full of sadness. And in the final Rondo Allegro, Krieger, Post and the orchestra all but pounced on Beethovens playful conclusion. Post sensed every quickening pulse and shift in tempo while Krieger enhanced the lightness throughout. By the time the concerto arrived at its big, energetic conclusion, an emotional journey had been completed, and the audience felt it and knew it.
Edward Elgars Enigma Variations filled the last half of the program. Its a sprawling piece with 14 individual portraits. An elegant choice for the seasons theme, the Variations are all about Elgars affectionate view of his wife, friends and even himself at the end.
Its treacherous music, full of abrupt shifts, sudden stops, scattered moments of light and an abundance of very short solos. The orchestra performed well except for a few unison passages in the strings where intonation seemed a problem.
The heart of the whole concert, however, arrived with a very moving interpretation of the most famous variation, Nimrod. Familiar to many, Variation IX is often played at memorial events and rises to an expressive nobility that everyone over time seems to recognize. At the end, the longest of all the variations, there was complete silence in the concert hall. Post let the silence hover in the air for a moment then shifted into a wildly contrasting variation, the Dorabella Intermezzo. Airy, light, full of little motifs, it was a puff ball on the wind.
The final variation, the composers self-portrait, did not shy from self-proclamation. It was big, proud, joyful and a perfect conclusion to a splendid concert.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.