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Jahja Ling and Dvorak surprised me

Even without San Diego Symphony's Raphael Payare

Dvorak's orientalism makes him beloved.
  • Dvorak's orientalism makes him beloved.

Never, ever, trust a critic. Always take any review with a grain of salt.

Case in point. I thought I didn’t like Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. I found it lacking the drama of his Seventh and Ninth Symphonies. I was wrong. I love Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony and it has plenty of drama.

On the other hand, I’ve always loved Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. My enduring love was strengthened after having heard it performed by the San Diego Symphony on Saturday, December 7.

The 18 year-old Wei Luo was the soloist. Luo has moved beyond the level of prodigy and into the realm of maturing artist. She played with nuance, accuracy, and power. Currently, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

I had gone into the concert with a fair amount of skepticism. My skepticism stemmed from the fact that Raphael Payare, the new music director, had six weeks in a row with the orchestra and now the music director laureate Jahja Ling was back to conduct this concert.

How would the players respond?

My skepticism had already been proven to be unfounded with the Prokofiev piano concerto. When the Dvorak Symphony No. 8 came around, I settled in to be bored.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I don’t know when or where I was the last time I heard the Dvorak Eighth but in the here and now of this concert, I was a fan. I was flabbergasted with myself. How could I have ever found this music to be unfulfilling? Well, you know what they say. Never trust a critic.

The opening phrase of the symphony sang forth from the cellos with a unity of tone and beauty which immediately made me feel guilty for having any doubts about this music. The first movement unfolded with all the lyricism, drama, and orientalism which makes Dvorak a beloved figure.

Perhaps orientalsim is the wrong word but the entire Eighth Symphony is colored with a chromaticism which evokes vistas other than those of traditional Western orchestral music. I would invoke the term “Gypsy” but it is no longer acceptable, according to “woke” culture. Of course, neither is orientalism.

Whatever the case may be, Jahja Ling, the San Diego Symphony, and Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony lifted my spirits, filled my heart and shamed my concert prejudices. Shame is such a useful emotion.

The San Diego Symphony now enters the holiday mode with their Noel Noel concerts over the next two weekends. The Masterworks series returns with legendary pianist Emanuel Ax playing Beethoven on Friday, January 10.

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