By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Pasadena Symphony; Tito Muñoz, conductor
Boyer “Apollo” from Three Olympians
Sibelius Violin Concerto; Caroline Goulding, violinist
Brahms Symphony No. 1
Saturday, January 12, 2012 • Ambassador Auditorium
Next concerts: February 9 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Some concerts are straightforward: a single theme or simply a collection of pieces. By contrast, Saturday afternoon’s concert by the Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium (which was repeated that evening) had a surfeit of threads that wove an enjoyable program.
Perhaps the most significant occurrence was the return of conductor Tito Muñoz to the PSO podium. Now age 29, Muñoz made a strong impression two years ago in his PSO debut during the orchestra’s first season without a music director, and he’s one of three conductors who have been invited back from appearances in the two past seasons.
As was the case before, Muñoz conducted confidently and authoritatively and the orchestra musicians responded with top-flight playing in all three of the afternoon’s selections, including Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, which concluded the program. Muñoz shaped phrases in this ultra-familiar work subtly, kept a sense of urgency throughout the piece, and finished with a somewhat supercharged chorale finale that included a sly grin and a baton flourish near the end. It was a performance mature beyond his years.
Even younger was the afternoon’s soloist, Caroline Goulding, who extended a tradition established by former music director Jorge Mester of discovering young, talented violinists (that list that includes Midori, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Robert McDuffie, among others). Now age 20 but already winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Grammy nomination, Goulding’s local debut calling card was the Sibelius Violin Concerto.
She produced a lovely tone on a circa 1720 Stradivarius and clearly possesses a formidable technique. Although many in the audience were thrilled with her performance, I found her penchant for frequently pushing and pulling the texture of this work to be disconcerting. Muñoz conducted carefully, perhaps trying to make up for Goulding’s meanderings, and the orchestra delivered a rich accompaniment.
The program opened with “Apollo” a section from Three Olympians, written in 2000 for a conductors’ class by Peter Boyer, who this season became the PSO’s Composer-in-Residence .
The title refers not to athletes but to the residents of Mt. Olympus in ancient Greece and the six-minute piece for large string orchestra is classical in its makeup. Muñoz and Co. played it lushly and Boyer was on hand to share in the applause. Will this piece be a precursor to his Symphony No. 1, which Boyer is scheduled to conduct when the PSO debuts it in the season’s final concert on April 27? Stay tuned; Boyer said he’s about 2/3 finished with the new work.
• The third of the repeat conductors, Nicholas McGegan, the next concert on Feb. 9. The program will be Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, with Russian soprano Yulia Van Doren as soloist, and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, with the PSO’s principal clarinetist, Donald Foster, as soloist.
• Goulding was dressed in a stunning, fiery red gown for her performance. Her Strad is known as the “General Kyd.”
(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.