Always pressing forward

The La Jolla Symphony concluded its season with Janacek, Haydn, and Ratcliff.

Composer Cary Ratcliff
  • Composer Cary Ratcliff

The final concert of the La Jolla Symphony season was a good one. The program included Janacek, Haydn, and a new piece for chorus orchestra, soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and guitar by Cary Ratcliff set to the poetry of Pablo Neruda.

Janacek was up first with Zarlivost which is pretty much the overture to his opera Jenufa. Whenever Janacek is included in a concert, it is a good thing.

Janacek sits in an interesting spot in early-20th Century music. He is not avant garde, yet he is not Wagnerian, nor is he nationalistic like composers such as Dvorak and Smetana. Janacek is his own dude.

The La Jolla Symphony performed the work well, with Steven Schick and his electric baton conducting. From my perspective, the orchestra and Schick have a tight relationship and they put the music out with confidence and style. When I say style I mean they didn’t just play the notes, they made the music exciting and it kept moving forward.

This is one element of Schick’s conducting that I enjoy. The music is always pressing forward. There is no slogging through the piece.

Haydn, the father of the symphony, had his 104th Symphony performed right before intermission. Stephen Schick conducted again and kept the energy, tempo, and rhythms tight and the performance hung together well.

After intermission, David Chase took over to conduct Cary Ratcliff’s Ode to Common Things. I enjoyed the poetry of Chilean Pablo Neruda and that was the main thing I took away from the composition.

Ratcliff has composed some fine and lyrical choral music but I found this particular composition to be outside my appreciation.

The performance was good enough, but the music never really got going. The female soloists had beautiful voices but Ratcliff didn’t give them anything to sing. They did a lot of vocal gymnastics but there was never a phrase of music for them to get their voices into.

I was disappointed because both the soprano, Monica Abrego, and the mezzo-soprano, Guadalupe Paz, had voices that sounded as if they could be exciting and dramatic if given a chance.

The tenor soloist was John Russell. Russell is the new music director of the San Diego Master Chorale. His bio started with his choral conducting positions, which is always a frightening thing for me — it usually means the tenor is more of a musician than a singer.

Russell’s voice was pleasant and pretty but once again, it was impossible to tell what he could do given the sample of music we heard.

I’m not sure why so many contemporary composers do this. For whatever reason, they are averse to writing a solo that the human voice would want to sing.

There were some beautiful moments in the music, but they were short-lived and few and far between. The poetry was about everyday objects such as scissors, a guitar, and bread, but it pointed to the unobserved beauty and profound nature of these everyday objects.

We might expect the composition to be everyday type music that became more beautiful and profound as it progressed with the poetry. Maybe that did happen but if it did, I missed it.

There was an insert in the program for the next La Jolla Symphony Season and — holy cow! — it is a huge season.

Mahler’s Fifth, the Berlioz Requiem, and Beethoven’s Ninth are all enormous pieces of music. It’s going to be a great season.

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