Positively Brilliant

UCSB Symphony

At Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, Wednesday, June 7.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

The accent was definitely on youth in Lotte Lehmann Hall Wednesday evening. It wasn’t until the awards ceremony at intermission that there was someone over 25 onstage — unless the conductor, Sean Newhouse, is a lot older than he looks.

The other accent of the first half was on virtuosity, as the three winners of this year’s Concerto Contest showed us, one at a time, exactly what all the fuss was about. Curiously, there was not a fiddler or pianist among them. As young as he looked, Newhouse was nevertheless in confident command throughout, and the orchestra played very well for him.

First out was flautist Alison Hazen to solo in the Fantasie Brillante sur “Carmen” for Flute and Orchestra, by François Borne, orchestrated by Guiot. Since the melodies and the basic orchestration were actually by Georges Bizet, from one of the most popular operas ever written, I almost need not say that Hazen scored a bull’s-eye with the audience. Her playing was nimble, strong, and crystal clear.

Since I had just heard him with the UCSB percussion ensemble five days before, it was absolutely no surprise to me that Haig Shirinian had won the right to solo in front of a full orchestra. With the percussion ensemble, he demonstrated awesome command of a wide variety of percussion instruments, but the scores were mostly of an abstract or experimental nature. Tonight, he played the marimba in a substantial composition — the third movement of Paul Creston’s Concertino for Marimba and Orchestra — and his ability to make straight music was definitively established. He is a charismatic performer, with a good deal of stage presence, and he is not even a senior yet.

The intense applause that greeted violist Leah Lucas as soon as she stepped onto the stage signaled the arrival of the popular favorite. Once she was a few bars into Ernest Bloch’s Suite for Viola and Orchestra (Movements III and IV), it was obvious that she possesses a major talent as well as a sunny, room-filling personality. She negotiated the sinuous melancholy of the slow movement and the sly jauntiness of the fast with equal aplomb. She deserved every decibel of the wild ovation she received.

After the intermission and the annual awards ceremony, Newhouse led the orchestra through solid and lyrical performances of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and the compelling overture to Weber’s opera Der Freischütz (The Marksman), whose horns more or less announce the advent of Romanticism.

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