Fittingly, since this year is the centenary of the birth of American composer Samuel Barber, the orchestra led off with his well-loved Adagio for Strings. This music is deservedly popular, having been used to score the brutal war movie Platoon and to underscore countless, much more romantic film and television presentations. This reading was soulful and gratifying.
Next came the Ausencia for Cello and String Orchestra by Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov, born in 1960 and enjoying great success wherever cello music is appreciated. The piece is in two parts, Omaramor for cello solo and Death of the Angels for cello and string orchestra.
Golijov’s Russian-Jewish parents came to Argentina shortly before his birth, and saw to it that he was given a thorough grounding in classical music. He wrote the Ausencia in homage to poet Carlos Gardel and his great compatriot, composer Astor Piazzolla.
Roman was born in Oklahoma and is only 26 years old, but he, too, is enjoying quite a success. The curly-haired young man has played all over the map, including the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York and a solo appearance at Carnegie Hall during the YouTube Symphony Orchestra’s debut concert.
He was not only at ease and comfortable as he played, but he showed genuine mastery of the repertoire. His second solo was Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra. This is a lively crowd favorite, and Smith was as energetic as conductor as Roman was with his cello. Of course, the audience gave the orchestra and Roman resounding applause at the end of the first half.
The second part of the program was devoted to the Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Opus 61 by Robert Schumann, whose 200th birthday anniversary is celebrated this year. Schumann is essentially a tragic figure, forever in his own mind made to take second place to his wife, renowned pianist Clara Wieck. He suffered from what is thought to have been the mental disorder of manic depression, and had a difficult time completing the four-movement Symphony No. 2.
Still, in spite of his fears and general ill health, he persevered, always encouraged by his loving wife. The result is both stirring and touching. The orchestra on Sunday afternoon was in fine fettle, and seemed to feed off Maestro Smith’s vigor and speedy pacing. Smith is another relative youngster, and among numerous assignments has been named the director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Conductors can have styles ranging from the subdued and intellectual to the quick and fervent. Smith is of the latter school, and the symphony certainly rose to the occasion. From the brief horn solo in the first movement to the rousing allegro molto vivace of the last movement, the Schumann piece again earned the enthusiastic applause of the audience.
The fact that the orchestra chose to play the Second Symphony rather than the more familiar — and obvious — First Symphony (the “Spring”) was a bonus.
The entire program of this concert offered variety, color and some compositions that are heard all too seldom.
— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.