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[whitespace] The Pacific Trio Stringing Along: The Pacific Trio joined the SC Symphony in last weekend's performance of Beethoven and Sibelius.

The SC Symphony breaks symphonic tradition with last weekend's unusual pairing

By Scott MacClelland

ACCORDING to the old formula--the one that was afraid to wander far from the traditional symphonic repertoire--a successful orchestral program pits a concerto against a symphony, one terribly familiar, the other not so. It didn't matter which was which so long as the concertgoer could count on hearing something that had "stood the test of time."

But any survey of classical record sales over the last few years exposes the dramatic degree to which the old traditional repertoire has lost its grip on classical consumers. A generation gap of increasing significance has widened between the traditional concert subscriber and those younger generations the classical presenters must convert if they are to survive.

In terms of programming John Larry Granger and the Santa Cruz County Symphony are obviously testing these new currents, sometimes with startling vision, other times with stale ideas. (Indeed, like other regional orchestras, Granger and company have been groping for direction for several seasons--witness the vacillations toward and away from new classical music.) In this case, Granger went for the infrequently played Symphony No. 1 in E Minor by Jean Sibelius, a brash work (the composer was in his early 30s) whose numerous flashes of originality punctuate the palpable influence of such predecessors as Bruckner and Berlioz. Though short of the full mastery that signals the mature Sibelius, it displays ample evidence of the composer's restless spirit and gutsy experiments.

In startling contrast to this dramatic work, Granger opted for the carefree gaiety of Beethoven's Triple Concerto in C, assigning to the often-overwhelming Viennese composer the unexpected role of appetizer. For the occasion, Granger engaged the Pacific Trio from Southern California, whose most authoritative member was cellist John Walz. Violinist Endre Balogh and pianist Edith Orloff certainly had their parts together (even though the piano itself sounded more dead than alive), but neither displayed the go-for-broke virtuosity, much less the over-the-footlights salesmanship, of Walz.

One reason that the Triple Concerto is sometimes cited as a lesser work compared to Beethoven's other concertos is its Mozartian charm, an aesthetic that Beethoven is often seen to have shattered. A better criticism, however, sticks to those few transitions that lack the "inevitability" associated with the Beethoven name. (And anyway, how bad can a comparison to Mozart be?) But even if the work is more a string of pearls than a grand arching statement, its finale really sets the hook. While not the only polonaise from Beethoven's pen, it certainly contains the composer's smartest and most opulent example of that stylish dance.

At the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, the orchestra sounds best when it makes its biggest noise. That's when sheer force of sonority can hold its own--sort of--against the all-absorbing acoustics of the room. With full brass and winds, the Sibelius delivered the best impact of the evening. This gave increased confidence to the orchestra, which powered through the reticence heard earlier on. Nevertheless, clarinetist Karen Sremac opened the work with an eerie pianissimo that was altogether as intense and mysterious as a tale by Stephen King.

At concert's end, Granger spoke in highest praise of concertmaster Terrie Baune, now leaving Santa Cruz after eight years to assume that post with the Fresno Philharmonic, bestowing upon her the title "concertmaster emeritus." Kristina Anderson, David Dally and Mary Lou Galen are listed as concertmasters for the duration of the current season.

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From the January 14-20, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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