San Diego Symphony finely attuned to Gershwin

05.23.09
Jahja Ling
San Diego News Network

Today and tomorrow mark the San Diego Symphony's final performances in this season's Jacobs' Masterworks Series at downtown's Copley Symphony Hall. That means you have just two more chances to hear music director Jahja Ling and the orchestra join pianist Jon Kimura Parker in what is surely one of the finest interpretations of Gershwin's Concerto in F that the orchestra has ever presented.

How do I know? I attended last night's performance of the appealingly eclectic program, which includes Harbison's "Remembering Gatsby: Foxtrot for Orchestra" and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.

Harbison's "Foxtrot" - a skillful blend of dark sonorities and 1920's-style party music - is part of a larger orchestra work by the composer who also wrote an opera based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel. A man sitting near me was so taken by the dance band beat that he couldn't resist tapping his feet.

In Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, the melodic mastery hit its peak in the third of the four movements. The swoon-worthy Adagio prompted a gloriously expressive response from conductor Ling and the orchestra, particularly principal clarinetist Sheryl Renk, principal bassoonist Valentin Martchev and concertmaster Jeff Thayer.

Yet in terms of feel-good programming, nothing surpassed the Gershwin. What made the performance so successful was the way in which Parker, Ling and the orchestra honored the score without missing the jazzy vitality and inventive fun.

In the vibrant opening Allegro, Parker brought such virtuosity to accented chords and scampering chromatic scales that his artistry was unmistakable. During the slow movement, Calvin C. Price's trumpet solo set the tone for playing that smartly contrasted bluesy effects with chordal splendor akin to that of Tchaikovsky.

And the closing Allegro Agitato was so excitingly agitated that it helped prompt audience cheers and whistles as well as an encore from Parker based on Billy Joel's "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant."

As the symphony season winds down, it's easy to look forward to the San Diego Symphony Summer Pops at downtown's wonderfully scenic Embarcadero Marina Park South and the 2009-10 season at Symphony Hall. A bountiful musical array awaits you.