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Music Review: Giancarlo Guerrero conducts the Pacific Symphony

10.21.11
Giancarlo Guerrero
Los Angeles Times

By Rick Schultz

The theme of Thursday night’s concert by the Pacific Symphony at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall seemed to be music made famous by famous movies. That’s not as crass as it may sound when the music is Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 (“Elvira Madigan”), and Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” with its shattering opening fanfare used by Stanley Kubrick to begin his mystical space epic, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, who is in his third season as music director of the Nashville Symphony, included another famous score, also given a space-age spin in “2001”: Johann Strauss Jr.’s waltz “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” (Would Strauss have liked knowing that Kubrick turned it into space Muzak?)

The concert opened with Alan Hovhaness’ “Prayer of St. Gregory,” a short meditative piece for strings and solo trumpet featuring the orchestra’s principal, Barry Perkins. He performed admirably, though a more rounded, ethereal tone would have been welcome.

In the Mozart concerto, pianist Jeremy Denk offered a crisp, finely judged modern account. He has said he likes to make old music sound new, and it certainly did when he performed his own ear-catching cadenzas in the outer movements. They both sounded improvised -– not a bad thing, since that’s what Mozart reportedly did. Guerrero and the orchestra lent sensitive and sustained support to Denk in the beautiful central Andante (the section crudely used in “Elvira Madigan” to signal romantic passion), and stayed with him in the exuberant finale.

After intermission, the orchestra gave a sweet, stirring account of Richard Strauss’ eight-part “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” In the rousing organ crescendo ending the score’s introduction, Christoph Bull made Segerstrom vibrate, if not shake. Guerrero and the symphony kept the sound tightly focused, maybe too tightly at times. In “The Dance-Song,” Raymond Kobler’s violin contribution was almost completely smothered by the orchestra. The brasses, especially crucial in this work, blared tunefully.

In the “Blue Danube,” the last piece on the main program (organist Bull offered an organ postlude), video choreographer José Francisco Salgado updated Kubrick’s "2001" space imagery (conceived in the late '60s) with his own for 2011, projected on a screen above the stage. NASA footage included whirling satellites, astronauts repairing what looked like a space station and a guy having fun with weightlessness. Pleasant enough, but maybe it's time to see that Kubrick masterpiece again.