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Narrow Range

Symphony Silicon Valley's latest concert focuses on a slim sliver of the classical repertoire

By Scott MacClelland

ISN'T IT TIME to divulge the "secret" of symphony success in Silicon Valley? That it went unheeded through all the recent seasons of the defunct San Jose Symphony doesn't make it the community's fault. This isn't computer science; it's simple observation and common sense. But just in case it still eludes Symphony Silicon Valley executive Andrew Bales and his close-in management team, it did reveal itself yet again at last weekend's Symphony Silicon Valley concert at the Center for the Performing Arts. The program, under guest conductor David Amado, included an early symphony by Haydn, a contrabass concerto by Bottesini (featuring principal bassist Bill Everett) and Schubert's Fifth Symphony.

As conductor, Amado made little impact, and though the orchestra has disclosed tarnished disciplines during the current season, this time it came through clean and clear. The program itself was responsible for both outcomes. Though the Bottesini dates from 1850, and the Schubert from 1816, they and the Haydn all use the same 18th-century "classical" style. (To increase interest among their audiences and musicians alike, those responsible for symphony programming choices would be smart to design concerts of greater stylistic variety.) It is this very style that forms the basis of symphony orchestra discipline and, as such, should play well whether or not the conductor is knowledgeable or experienced. In this case, the orchestra played well, a most reassuring sign for future artistic growth.

As for Amado, his published pedigree had little chance to prove itself. There was no music here that would seriously challenge his artistic imagination or reveal his expressive range. As if a search were under way for a new music director, the musicians are now asked to submit conductor evaluations to management after each concert. The orchestra musicians' comments have yet to be released, but in this concert they flattered their podium guest.

To understand those who support classical music in Santa Clara Valley, think Sharks. When the team was introduced, there popped up no shortage of skeptics. But despite losses that initially far outran wins, San Jose got juiced up over its hockey players and now gives them support other "producers" can only envy. What San Joseans love as much as a winning team is knowing that their support is crucial to the players.

Therefore, at the symphony, bassist Bill Everett won cheers and bravos from audience and orchestra alike for a less-than-note-perfect performance of Bottesini's Double Bass Concerto no. 2, a vanity piece--the composer was a virtuoso bass player--that much of the time was barely audible, while the polished Schubert, an opus of lasting significance, won only respectful applause. For Everett, this was more an athletic than artistic challenge, the home team hero against the odds. A piece that expects a contrabassist to ably negotiate the "resin" register--the only one that can hope to cut through an orchestral accompaniment to the ear of the listener--is unreasonable on its face. Everett knows better than most that soaring into the stratosphere requires not only extra resin (which he applied between movements) but increased oxygen as well.

In athletic terms, Haydn was the ultimate winner. His Sixth Symphony is loaded with solo players, each a star member of the team. Go Sharks!

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the March 10-17, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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