For a moment, for a few hours Saturday night, conductor Arthur Post and the San Juan Symphony created the illusion that all’s right with the world.
Post embedded that idea in his introduction to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. “It’s Mozart’s best known,” he said, “and probably my favorite.”
The first movement combined nobility and tranquility, he said, “as if the music was exhaling all the time.”
The second movement? “Sublime.”
And the third – filled with “the lively and witty music Mozart always finished with.”
We’ve come to take Post’s engaging introductions for granted. Not only is he a fine musician and expressive conductor, but he’s an excellent guide. Comfortable in his professorial role, Post has a conversational style that gives listeners just enough information to fully focus on the music.
Simply called “Three Favorites,” the concert offered the comfort of familiarity. It did not enter uncharted contemporary landscapes, something Post is good at and which has pushed the orchestra and audience into new musical experiences. But an evening of familiar musical mountains seemed completely appropriate and welcome in our troubled time.
That said, the concert opened with a sparkling, four-minute dance filled with agitation and zippy highlights. Gliére’s “Russian Sailor’s Dance” high-stepped in the air and disappeared before you could notice all the young musicians sprinkled into the orchestra. The annual side-by-side concert invites local youngsters to participate in a symphonic experience.
In a very tight reading, Post entrusted three young percussionists with particularly critical assignments. Torrin Hopkins-Arnold, Noah Walker and Reiley Waldo confidently held forth on cymbals, tambourine and snare drum.
Post’s favorite Mozart piano concerto also got a beautiful, clear-as-glass reading from the evening’s soloist, Tanya Gabrielian. With a deep performance history, especially in England where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Royal Academy of Music, Gabrielian has concertized around the world. She completed her advanced studies at The Juilliard School and now lives in New York City.
Her particularly sensitive rendering of the adagio underscored Post’s notion that things are all right in the world. Gabrielian established a quiet, reflective tone that had a bittersweet quality throughout. When Post moved directly into the final movement with a quick orchestral attack, the mood changed. The final movement’s joyful exuberance registered on musicians’ faces, including Gabrielian’s.
After intermission, another great work that is familiar and uplifting filled the hall. Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major is a universe unto itself. Post spoke briefly about where it fit into the composer’s creative life and outlined each of the movements.
Pastoral in character, the symphony is a musical edifice composed of divergent paths, a multitude of memorable themes, and a mixture of light and darkness, joy and melancholy. Post and company navigated the long first movement with confidence and shifted in the adagio to quieter waters.
The third movement, a sumptuous, old-world waltz, seemed to transport the audience to a happier, more innocent time. Post exploited the rise and fall of Dvorák’s three-quarter time as if he wanted us all to be in Vienna in summertime. With big, double-armed gestures, Post emphasized every downbeat and leaned into every crescendo. For more than a moment, the world felt right and beautiful.
But that’s not to say this was a happy-face concert. Human joy is more complicated than that. Streaks of darkness shot through the whole evening. And a driving sense of inevitability brought Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8 to a gratifying conclusion.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.