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A felicitous homecoming for Joshua Roman

05.29.09
Joshua Roman
The Seattle Times

Joshua Roman is back. Not that he's been gone long. But in his couple of years as one of the youngest section principals in the history of the Seattle Symphony, Roman and Seattle audiences developed quite an attachment to each other. It is only fitting that his new solo career would bring him right back to Benaroya Hall.

Roman wasn't the only celebrated guest this week. The concert also saw the return of former Oregon Symphony conductor James DePreist. DePreist began with Smetana's "Bartered Bride" Overture, one of those workouts where the strings are playing a million notes a minute, right out of the gate. But respect the conductor who treats these old chestnuts like real music, as DePreist does. He kept the ensemble tight and restrained, so the forte sections burst with jubilation. DePreist has a presence that is at once majestic and contemplative, like a king buddha at the podium. The orchestra felt it, and responded.

David Stock's Cello Concerto was supposed to have received its premier five years ago in Pittsburgh, but an illness and the complexities of rescheduling meant the world premier happened this week, right here in Seattle, with our own cello wunderkind Joshua Roman.

The first movement, marked "slow, mysterious," is exactly those things from the opening notes in the lower strings. The tones migrate upward, with a flurry of brass and percussion, and an impassioned theme in the violins, before the cello makes its entrance with a hard pizzicato ascending line, followed by gentler bowed arpeggios that, again, rise.

There are many rising patterns throughout this composition, and considering the low range of the cello, there seems to be a conscious effort from the composer to support it with instruments that are even lower: the tuba, the bass clarinet, the contrabassoon.

Roman's solo part was an impressive display, particularly the long cadenza that bridges the second and third movements. His left hand became a manic spider and then climbed up into high, micro-thin harmonics. The plaintive, spiritual lines that dominate the finale (the composer quotes from liturgical music from Jewish high holy days) gave a deep, satisfying ending to the whole affair.

The second half was rich and full with Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. The last composition of his legendary career, this three-movement banquet ought to be heard more often in concert halls. Though it moves in some new directions that place it in the mid-twentieth century, it also satisfied all of his admirers who love this stalwart romantic.