Beethoven might be the headliner, but the attention grabbers from last night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert were guest cellist Edward Arron performing Saint-Saëns and living American composer Kevin Puts. Perhaps you have heard of neither? All the more reason to get to Saturday night's concert.
Arron's performance demonstrated what happens when you do everything right going into a concert. The work was the Concerto No. 1 in A Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33 by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Arron clearly practices consistently and has practiced and performed this work a sufficient number of times over the years for it to be sufficiently ingrained in his muscle memory. There is a huge leap made by a soloist when the music is memorized. There is an even larger leap that is made once the soloist has become one with his instrument and the music.
Arron also avoided one of my pet peeves: every time he returned to the theme, he gave it a different and organically progressed expression. Not once was the theme boring. Watching Arron's face, it was almost as if he was imagining an opera, with an infinite variation of the word "love" passing between himself and some coquettish maiden.
Arron deserves a "best of" for capturing an analysis of the notes, practicing, absorbing, and then letting it all go in a Top 3 soloist performance with the RPO (the other two being Augustin Hadelich, violin, in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 and Juliana Athayde, violin, in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14). Arron is a graduate of The Juilliard School, and now serves on the faculty at New York University. His performance credits include all the top performance halls and festivals, and he has performed with Yo-Yo Ma and as part of the Silk Road Project.
Also on last night's program was "Inspiring Beethoven" by American composer Kevin Puts (b. 1972), an Eastman School of Music alum. It's a really terrific composition. The layers and the mood changes capture what one can only imagine would be the multiplicity of sounds in Beethoven's head. Somber, sad, tortured, delusional, a brewing tempest, the tempest, and then the release of a joyful composition.NirKabaretti, guest conductor, transitioned the moods through single-note pivots.
And then, of course, the mighty Beethoven was the star of the night, and received the lion's share of the time. On the program were his Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a and his Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (the "Pastoral"). These works are on the pleasant and enjoyable end of the Beethoven spectrum, providing the kind of orchestration for strings perhaps only Beethoven could supply, along with a range of dynamics from quiet to loud without all the explosives. Perhaps these works were written in better days for Herr Beethoven? Conductor Kabaretti certainly was afforded an opportunity to smile with much greater frequency than would be typical for Beethoven -- or the RPO programming, for that matter -- and Kabaretti took that opportunity to share his enjoyment with the musicians and the audience.
Kabaretti, born in Israel, educated in Vienna, residing in Florence and now Santa Barbara, brought the kind of universal warmth to these works one should expect. I'm not sure I was sold on the opening passage to the Leonore Overture, which started the program, either as to tempo or as to precision of entrances, but credit must be given both to the guest conductor and to the RPO. This is a season of 100 percent guest conductors and if there is anything to be observed, it is that every week the musicians are learning the sign language of a new captain at the helm.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will repeat the program Saturday, November 23, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information call 454-1200 or visit the website.