By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Long Beach Symphony; Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor
Terrace Theatre, Long Beach
Next concert: March 8
For the past quarter-century the Long Beach Symphony has grown steadily in terms of artistic quality while, apparently, also achieving financial stability. In the process, it has consigned to ancient history a turbulent era that included cancelling most of the 1984-1985 season while the ensemble reorganized following bankruptcy.
In 1989 JoAnn Falletta began an acclaimed 12-year-tenure as the orchestra’s music director before moving on to bigger vistas in Buffalo, New York and Virginia. In 2001 Enrique Arturo Diemecke, a dynamic Mexican conductor, succeeded Falletta and he has continued the orchestra’s growth.
However, last November Diemecke — somewhat suddenly and mysteriously — announced that this current season would be his last. Beyond the original release, neither the orchestra nor Diemecke has said much about the decision. The orchestra has formed a search committee for a new music director and its recently announced 80th anniversary season in 2014-2015 will have each of the six concerts led by a different guest conductor, at least some of whom, presumably, could be candidates succeed Diemecke.
Meanwhile, the orchestra is trying to send Demiecke off with panache (the formal celebration will come in the last concert on May 31). Last night’s concert featured him not only as a conductor but as a composer, since the final work on the program, Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas, features a cadenza for 12 percussionists that Diemecke wrote 15 years when he was conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México.
In another nod to the birth centennial of English composer Benjamin Britten, the concert opened with an exuberant performance of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or, as it is sometimes called, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell. The piece was also the centerpiece of the orchestra’s free education program for youth, which took place during the week prior to the concert.
In the mid-17th century, Purcell composed incidental music to the play Abdelazar (The Moor’s Revenge), and Britten used Purcell’s hornpipe melody as the basis for music that he composed for a 1946 film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra.
Diemecke took the opening theme in a lush, stately manner, and the 13 variations showed off solo instruments and sections of the orchestra. The concluding fugue was brisk and built inexorably to a grand finale. Perhaps more than anything, the piece demonstrated the value of hearing music live, as opposed to via recording. Seeing and hearing the variations passed from one section to another added to the enjoyment.
Post-intermission, Diemecke and the orchestra offered a boisterous performance of La Noche de los Mayas, a piece that began as a score for a 1939 movie filmed in the jungles of the Yucatan and ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico. In 1960, composer-conductor José Yves Limatour created a four-movement suite from the film score and, with Diemecke’s cadenza for the 12 percussionists who highlight the final movement, this is the version played by most ensembles today.
This is one of the few film scores that have made it into mainstream classical programs and it has been played by many Southern California orchestras, despite the resource required both in terms of extra percussionists and the instruments they play, which include a native log-like drum and a conch shell.
Diemecke, who was born in Mexico of German parents, clearly relishes this 36-minute work, and the orchestra rose to the challenge not only in the athletic portions but also in the lyrical moments during the two inner movements. As often happened, the audience sat stunned after the final cadence before erupting into a thunderous standing ovation.
Acting as a sandwich between the Britten and Revueltas pieces was Burleske for piano and orchestra, written when Richard Strauss was just 21 years old. If any orchestra has to program this vulgar, 17-minute piece then it might was well engage someone like pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine as soloist to make it at least endurable or, to most in the audience, enjoyable.
The 33-year-old Moutouzkine, who was born in Russia but completed a Master of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, has the kind of piston-like fingers that are indispensable in this piece, which program annotators Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn described as “a grand waltz fantasy in the flamboyant style of Franz Liszt.” Actually, the way that Moutouzkine threw himself around the piano bench, one could easily have pictured a reincarnation of Liszt if Moutouzkine had the Hungarian composer’s wild hairstyle. An enthusiastic standing ovation brought forth a jazzy encore that proved to be more of the same. One can only hope that there is more than pyrotechnics to Moutouzkine’s musical makeup.
• Diemecke offered short commentary before each half of the program. His thick accent makes it hard for those who aren’t concert regulars to understand him completely, but his infectious enthusiasm comes through clearly as it does on the podium, where he conducts without a baton, depending instead on whirling hands and bouncy athleticism.
The 2014-15 lineup of guest conductors includes
• John DeMain, formerly Music Director at Opera Pacific in Orange County who now leads the Madison (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra (Oct. 4);
• Santa Monica native Edwin Outwater, Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Ontario, Canada (Nov. 8);
• Bruce Kiesling, assistant conductor of the Pasadena Symphony who is also leading YOLA, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (Jan. 31, 2015;
• William Eddins, Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony (March 7, 2015);
• Lucas Richman, Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony and Bangor Symphony (April 25, 2015); and
• Edward Cumming, former Music Director of the Hartford Symphony (May 30, 2015).
(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.