OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Rio Hondo Symphony opens 79th season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily



Rio Hondo Symphony; Kimo
Furumoto, conductor; Alison Edwards, piano

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica)

Rossini: William Tell Overture;
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 Vic Lopez Auditorium (Whittier High

Next concert: Oct. 30

Information: www.riohondosymphony.org



When Kimo Furumoto was named music director of the Rio Hondo
Symphony three years ago and announced “The Beethoven Project” — wherein the
orchestra would play all nine of the composer’s symphonies, one a year — it
seemed obvious that this year would be the first real test. Although the first
two symphonies are not easy to play, the Symphony No. 3 is one of the monuments
of symphonic literature, a 50-minute work that can challenge the best ensembles.


Thus it’s no surprise that at yesterday’s concert — the
opening event in the RHS’s 79th season — the community orchestra
gave a valiant, albeit troubled effort of the mighty Eroica. Fortunately, the balance of the concert proved to be more
satisfying for the large crowd that showed up at Whittier High School’s Vic
Lopez Auditorium.


Whether Furumoto helped his orchestra or the audience by
scheduling the symphony as the program’s opening work is debatable. The players
were certainly freshest at that point and given that they seemed to tire
noticeably in the final two movements, that was probably foremost in the
conductor mind but it made for an unusual alignment. Furthermore, Furumoto
elected to talk briefly before each of the first three movements, thus
hampering the work’s continuity and flow.


On the podium, Furumoto was very fussy in his gestures and
took the first movement at a brisk clip. There was little grandeur in “Funeral
March” second movement and the final two movements plodded inexorably to the
end. The orchestra had moments when they played nicely and others where they
seemed overmatched by Beethoven — not the first orchestra to suffer that fate.


After intermission, Furumoto came on stage wearing a white
hat, black mask and red bandana, all of which brought a big laugh from the
audience. The reason, of course, was Rossini’s William Tell Overture, whose final section includes the theme music
for the long-ago radio and television show The
Lone Ranger.
I found it interesting that neither the printed program nor
Furumoto actually explained the allusion; given the average age of the audience
perhaps no one figured it was necessary but there was a big laugh of
recognition when Trumpeter Chris Price launched into the famous theme, which
seemed to indicate that not everyone understood the joke.


If the William Tell overture
shows up at all these days, it’s usually outdoors, so it was nice of Furumoto
to program it in a hall with at least somewhat reasonable acoustics. Aside from
the fact that many of the themes beyond The
Long Ranger
were staples of American television cartoons in the 1950s — the
overture’s lack of play is regrettable because it’s actually an inventive piece
that spotlights many of the orchestra’s principals. Kudos to Price, Cellist
Carolyn Litchfield, the wind principals — Laura Stone, oboe, Laurel
Myers-McKenzie, flute, Anne Young, clarinet, and Eric Johnson, bassoon — and
the brass section for shining in the performance.


Putting the Eroica
at the beginning of the program meant that the finale was Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, which ended up making a satisfying conclusion (the
concerto also took note of the composer’s bicentennial, which takes place on
Oct. 22). The concert’s theme was “Heroes” and Furumoto took the time to note
that Liszt’s heroic gesture was to give up his fabled concert career to become
a teacher. Furumoto then asked the teachers in the audience to stand and be
recognized as modern-day heroes (the number of those who stood was impressive)
— a nice touch.


Alison Edwards (who, like the conductor, teaches at Cal
State Fullerton) was the soloist. She luxuriated in the poetic portions and, some
smudges aside, was impressive in the bravura sections, as well. Furumoto did
his best to follow her willful tempo shifts (which wasn’t easy). The orchestra
accompanied with gusto.



(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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