incident light

YOSA Philharmonic, Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson

Tales of love, with tragic coloring

November 8, 2010

Two distinguished guest soloists, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, provided ample incentive to reacquaint myself with the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio’s most advanced ensemble, the Philharmonic, in a challenging program Nov. 7 at the Majestic Theater.

The guests’ vehicle, David Ludwig’s Double Concerto, was further incentive -- a recent work (2008) by a significant American composer. Flanking it were Silvestre Revueltas’s “Sensemaya” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Incentive No. 3 was the YOSA Philharmonic’s music director, Troy Peters, who had won high marks for leading two San Antonio Symphony rehearsals at short notice last week when the guest conductor took ill.

Ludwig’s Double Concerto comprises three substantial movements and two brief interludes -- the first featuring the solo violin in dialogue with the percussion, the second for the solo cello posed against flutes and bassoons. According to the composer, the three full movements essay the three classical Greek concepts of love: The first movement (eros) was inspired by the tale of Odysseus and Calypso, the second (agape) by Tristan and Iseult and the third (philia) by the story of the Buddha.

Like much of Ludwig’s music, the Double Concerto evinces a tragic sense of life. Melodies or melodic fragments yearn but seem thwarted. There are episodes of violent struggle, deep shadow and plangent orchestral dissonances, but also of serene beauty and vaulting athleticism. The language is Modern in its means but Romantic in its ends.There is often a feeling of intense strangeness as one harmonic region yields to another, but the listener is always pulled along, wanting to know how the story ends.

The piece was composed for Laredo and Robinson, and they made a splendid case for it -- the violinist with his focused, richly grained sound, energetic style and sure aim; the cellist with gorgeous, transparent, resonant sound and unsurpassed expressiveness.

Peters proved to be a strong conductor. His very precise but expressive stick held the orchestra nicely together through the daunting rhythmic intricacies of “Sensemaya.” His pacing and his lyrical line in the Beethoven Seventh were exemplary.

This concert was something of a trial by fire for a student orchestra. The results were mixed. In the Beethoven, the violins couldn’t quite hang together in the ascending staccato runs near the start of the first movement, the horns and trumpets sometimes struggled, and there were too many tentative entrances all around. But on the whole the strings played pretty well, with beefy sound and good intonation, and there were lots of confident solos from the woodwinds. The percussion section (augmented by a couple of violinists) was quite strong in “Sensemaya” and the Ludwig concerto.

The performance suggested that Peters is pushing his young charges as they should be pushed, with first-rate, fully mature music that’s a little beyond their ability; and pulling them as they should be pulled, with clear guidance and astute musicality.   

Mike Greenberg