Maestro Larry Rachleff captured the astonishment of the moment at The Granada Theatre on Sunday afternoon when he looked out at the audience from the podium and exclaimed in mock surprise, “There’s people out there!” Yes, there were, and they were as surprised and delighted as he was to be experiencing the first live performance in the space since March 2020. This was the Sunday-matinee opening orchestral concert of the Music Academy of the West’s 2021 season, and it could not have been a more joyful experience.
The program included Katie Abbott’s rambunctious contemporary fanfare, Punch, and two splendid works from the traditional repertoire, the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543 of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite in the composer’s 1919 arrangement. Ears unused to the complex delicacy of a live orchestra were ravished by the young players, who, as Rachleff pointed out, had not played as a group for more than a year and were working with less than a full week’s rehearsal through some very challenging and sophisticated material.
The previous night saw guests dining under the stars at the Academy’s magnificent Miraflores campus, where introductions were made, music was performed, and faculty violist Richard O’Neill was honored with the Academy’s Distinguished Alumni Award. O’Neill has had quite a year. After being made a member of the Takács Quartet, he learned that his performance of the Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by contemporary composer Christopher Theofanidis was the 2020 Grammy winner for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. His heartfelt acceptance speech detailing the profound impact of the Music Academy and his mentor Donald McInnes on his early career was capped by a moving performance of Rachmaninoff’s cello sonata accompanied by Jeremy Denk. The season continues this week with an orchestral concert on July 17 led by Michael Tilson Thomas.