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Follow The Leader

Guest conductor Patrick Flynn puts his stamp on Symphony Silicon Valley

By Scott MacClelland

AMONG THE REASONS an orchestra will give a conductor a good performance are love, fear and respect. Except for some notorious tyrants, any given conductor is likely to attract a cocktail of reactions from the musicians of any given orchestra. Of course, that cocktail will almost always carry a drop or two of venom. No matter how good a conductor might be, his presence always announces to the musicians: My ego is more important than yours.

The musicians of Symphony Silicon Valley have been through enough encounters with guest conductor Patrick Flynn (subbing for Lan Shui, who will be rescheduled for next season) to have crystallized their take on the lanky British podium veteran, and their personal views are said to run the gamut, including some complaints of arrogance. Regardless, they consistently give him excellent performances that reveal his talents and their musicianship. Most telling is the bold confidence they exhibit under his leadership. These qualities were on fine display Saturday night at the California Theatre in the early Strauss tone poem Don Juan and Beethoven's Third Symphony, the Eroica. With his gawky and angular arm gestures, Flynn deftly shaped and paced these two masterpieces, with a refreshing play of elastic tempi and sculptured dynamics.

"Out and away to new conquests, as long as youth's fiery pulses race!" wrote Nikolaus Lenau in his poem Don Juan, providing the 24-year-old Richard Strauss with the inspiration for his first international success. On Flynn's watch, the orchestra indulged the flamboyant, libidinous score with fearless spectacle and flying colors. (Beth Fleming's program note suggests the Don's end comes at the hand of the Commendatore, as in the Mozart opera, but that is not the case here where he peters out through sheer sexual excess. Indeed, Strauss makes this perfectly clear.)

Strauss was only 19 when he wrote his first horn concerto—for his horn-playing father—in 1883. (Much of the writing lays out the vocabulary of gestures and phrase that flowers fully in Don Juan.) For the occasion, the hornist Richard Todd, prominent in both concert and film work, deported the concerto with subtlety and flair, playing mostly with closed eyes and cautious concentration. Alert to solos among the orchestra, he fell in sweetly with clarinetist Michael Corner for their short second-movement duet. Regardless, there is more wiggle room in the piece for a soloist's expressive liberties. As an encore, Todd played his own lushy orchestration of Eden Ahbez' career one-off, Nature Boy, and here opened space for a Hollywood-style improvisation.

The era of radio and recordings has made the first-movement repeat in classical symphonies redundant, and omitting it from this Beethoven did no harm. Flynn put the focus on energy and thrust, charging through the roller-coaster first movement with unhesitating zeal. Phrasing and balance sustained the big funeral march adagio up to its thrilling climax and down the other side. The horns in the trio of the scherzo smartly etched a subito diminuendo right after their first sforzando, a subtle detail from among Flynn's interpretive ideas. The 10 variations of the finale stood as a testament to the composer's cocky virtuosity.

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From the May 4-10, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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