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Brisk Baton: Guest conductor Mallory Thompson kept up a crisp pace at Saturday's concert.

Sample Night

Symphony Silicon Valley took in a wide range of 'greatest hits' last Saturday

By Scott MacClelland

SOMETHING for Everyone," Symphony Silicon Valley's "sampler" of five works representing three centuries, attracted a large audience, eager for a good time at the Center for Performing Arts last Saturday. Such a program would predictably need an experienced craftsman at the helm, and this was certainly the case with guest conductor Mallory Thompson, who kept things moving briskly along from start to finish. Whether she is also an artist remained unrevealed by the program choices in this case. As is often the risk with large complements of winds, the brass several times blotted out the strings. Part of the fault stems from the CPA itself, whose acoustic shell, as deployed, acts like a megaphone for those ranks at the back of the stage.

The strings of Symphony Silicon Valley deserve better however. When they are allowed to shine, they often do so with lustrous tone and excellent teamwork. Matters of orchestral balance have suffered, along with other orchestra disciplines, for want of an installed music director. Guest conductors cannot realistically be expected to rectify bad habits that creep into orchestral playing. But that is one of the high-priority expectations of a permanent conductor, which this orchestra truly needs. Inevitable anxieties that accompany the birth of a new symphony enterprise notwithstanding, the current product can be improved.

Thompson's program could easily have been called "Greatest Hits," since such could be said for Kabalevsky's Colas Breugnon overture, Hummel's Trumpet Concerto in E, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 for strings and Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber. Even though rarely played these days, the short suite from Act 3 of Wagner's Meistersinger opens a window on one of that composer's most popular works.

Kabalevsky is at his most brilliant and vivacious in his 1938 orchestral showpiece. In one moment or another, everybody gets to be a virtuoso. For the Hummel concerto, principal trumpeter James Dooley dusted off his rarely used E instrument and fired off some flashy triple tonguing in the bravura final movement. The piece itself, an imitation of late Mozart piano concertos, is probably the only work by Hummel that gets any play at all these days, kept alive as it is by trumpet virtuosos.

Extraordinary for its concentrated brevity, the suite cobbled from the third act of Meistersinger captures the many moods of the sprawling masterpiece, culminating in the exalted Entry of the Masters. In her affection for the brass, Thompson allowed them to obliterate more than a few important inner voices in the contrapuntal fabric.

Opening the second half, the first-stand string players, plus a third cellist and harpsichordist, marched on stage together for the Brandenburg Concerto as Bach composed it--and without conductor. This intimate presentation sounded impressively big in the room and showed off string colors not normally apparent in full-ensemble playing. At last came the sensationally contrapuntal Hindemith, though again Thompson allowed the brass complement to blot out important lines in the strings and woodwinds. Nevertheless, the orchestra gave the punching first allegro, riotous Turandot scherzo and smacking final march an explosive impact probably still reverberating in the rafters.

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From the February 5-11, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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