Last night my wife andI attended our first concert of the Plano Symphony Orchestra. This is kind of embarrassing because Plano has had a symphony since 1983. It has grown from a chamber orchestra to a full fledged orchestra.
The performance of the Beethoven 9th is a test for any orchestra and conductor in the world. It is a massive composition of over one hour in length and requires a large orchestra, a full chorus, and four solo singers. It is a piece of music that is wired into my psyche. I have seen it performed live twice before and I listen to it every December 16th in honor of the birth of Beethoven. (So what if you think its silly:-) The attempt to perform such a masterpiece is a statement by the Plano Symphony that they feel they have arrived. After last night I would say they largely succeeded.
The evening began with the Mozart Symphony No 40 in G minor K.550. Mozart wrote this symphony late in his short life and he may never have seen it performed live. Hector Guzman, the conductor of the the Plano Symphony, set his tempo’s largely on the slower side. I for one like this approach to Mozart. Some time the tempo’s of Mozart performances are so fast that it seems like a race to see who finishes first. This is somber, uneasy music and Mr Guzman brought out the more romantic forward looking side of Mozart that led directly to the symphonies of Beethoven and everyone who followed. The andante is sometimes played too slow but Guzman and the orchestra nailed the Andante “walking pace” of the movement. The Menuetto/Allegretto was muscular and dramatic. Because Mr. Guzman didn’t play the first movement at a break neck pace, it set up the finale “Allegro assai” beautifully and it raced ahead full of angst, anxiety and drama. This was music making at a very high level.
The first movement of the Beethoven was again taken a little slower than I’ve heard. This added weight and foreboding to the music. I noticed that Maestro Guzman chose to skip the repeat in the opening Allegro. I think because of time concerns. The performance started at 8:15 and was delayed by a special presentation to the retiring executive director Alice Hobbs, who is responsible for bringing the orchestra to the level of success they have achieved. Usually when the 9th is performed only a short composition is performed before because the 9th is so long. In any case the first movement was performed deliberately and workman like. It never rose to the point of magic but still admirably executed. The Scherzo is almost as famous as the “Ode to Joy” Choral finale. It was wonderfully played with crisp and emotional execution by the orchestra although I did notice a few spots where co-ordination between sections was a little off. Unless you have heard the work as much as I have it was probably not noticed by the general public. It was in the third movement that had the most problems. Many people mistakenly feel that playing fast must be much more difficult than playing slow. It is my feeling that the reverse is true. First, when you play slow your rythme must be perfect andthe music must not lose it’s forward momentum. Second, mistakes are more easy to notice and so you are much more exposed during slow compositions. Both things seemed to affect the orchestra. There are several moments in the Adagio where various woodwind and horn players have solo moments. Not all of these were executed flawlessly. (By the way, these solo’s are also very demanding.) In the end the “molto cantablie” was achieved and set up the orchestral blast that leads to the finally beautifully.
The four soloist came out to be seated after the 2nd movement so that the orchestra could go straight into the finale with almost no break. The soloist were as follows: Alex Bumpas, Tenor; Blake Davidson, Bass; Laura Mercado-Wright, Mezzo Soprano; and(A last minute substitution) Algela Turner Wilson, Soprano. The finale was very well done with only a few minor faux pas. It is always so dramatic to me when the chorus stands up to sing. The chorus was very well prepared and performed admirably. Of the four soloist I thought that the Tenor, Alex Bumpas and the Soprano Angela Turner Wilson were fantastic. I predict that Alex Bumpas is going places. He was just amazing. Angela Wilson has a huge but beautiful voice. Even though the 9th taxes every singers range there was not sign of it last night from these two singers. What a performance!
So in the end I give the performance a B. Quite an accomplishment for a organization that was a chamber orchestra just a few years ago. The future is bright and Hector Guzman is quite a talented conduct and music director. I for one am going to buy season tickets for next year. This was the final performance of their 8 concert season. Congratulation to Hector Guzman, the Plano Symphony, it’s staff and to Alice Hobbs who played such an important role in bringing the symphony to this point. ENCORE!!