Tall, lanky Blake Richardson hovered over the San Juan Symphony last Saturday night, launching the 30th season. With a wingspan rivaling that of a bald eagle, Richardson was the first of three young conductors vying to replace Arthur Post as music director. Earlier this year, Post moved on after 13 years in the position.
Smiling and waving to the audience, Richardson took long strides to the podium and directly plunged into an energetic rendering of Dvořák’s roustabout “Carnival Overture.”
The 10-minute work exploded with exuberance then slipped easily into its inner lyricism. The overture comes close to being a tone poem with a busy-crowd introduction and a more introspective middle section. While the strings quietly sang in the background, a brief conversation could be heard between Shelly Mann’s flute and Rebecca Ray’s English horn. A natty, persistent rhythm kept the carnival atmosphere in mind thanks to tambourine-man James Doyle
In short order, Richardson pressed forward and brought the cheerful work back to its initial high energy for a robust, sparkling conclusion.
Winded but smiling, Richardson addressed the audience for the first time.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” he said, catching his breath. Briefly, he described the whole program, one he had submitted as part of the competition process.
“The works you’ll hear tonight offer three different takes on the human experience.”
After a few comments on the joyous opening work just performed, Richardson talked about Edward Elgar’s 1919 cello concerto, concluding with an overview: “You’ll hear dark emotions, but you’ll also hear moments of fleeting joy.”
Richardson’s notes on Brahms’ Second Symphony contrasted its light and dark elements. He mentioned the 20 years Brahms struggled with his first symphony, written in C minor, “a very dark key. The second symphony took only one year to compose, and it came freely. It’s in D Major – a happy key.”
Concise and plain spoken, Richardson gave the audience just what it needed to focus on the upcoming works. When he returned to the stage, he brought the evening’s soloist, Inbal Segev, with him for Elgar’s fiercely intense “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E minor.”
The 1919 concerto was Elgar’s last significant composition before he died 15 years later. Written at the end of World War I, it carries all the marks of despair but is not without hope.
Segev played the dark opening theme as if it were a powerful pronouncement of grief. The orchestra joined her in an expression of sad, musical grandeur, underscoring the elegiac nature of the first movement.
In contrast, the second movement brimmed with anxiety, followed by an adagio filled with quiet mourning – extended suspensions and almost inaudible pianissimos. Exquisite in its tragic beauty, the concerto finished with a strong sense of acceptance.
As promised, the concert concluded with Brahms’ Second, a big 40-minute work, pastoral in nature and filled with the joy of life. Richardson rolled through Brahms’ landscape of emotions and mustered all forces for the big, heroic finale.
If this is a competition year, we’re off to a very good start.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.