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[whitespace] Tzimon Barto Saving the Day: Tzimon Barto stepped in when Marilyn Horne had to cancel.

Photograph courtesy of EMI/John Stoddart

Releasing Tension

A soloist cancels, a program changes--the SJ Symphony soldiers on for season-opener

By Scott MacClelland

TENSION BORDERING on stress infused the San Jose Symphony opening-night gala like a performance-enhancing drug. Though fueled by a sequence of events symphony managers dread, those subliminal anxieties only worked to electrify the sartorially splendored Saturday audience at the Center for the Performing Arts.

It was tough enough when ballyhooed opera legend Marilyn Horne abruptly canceled, requiring a major last-minute program change. Then the alternate program was announced, including the originally scheduled West Side Story Dances by Bernstein, but by concert time, that piece had disappeared. For those symphony sponsors still troubled by the recently announced $200,000 increase in office rent--which has to be a hard sell--at least a new two-year contract with the musicians has just been signed.

The crisis at the San Jose Cleveland Ballet--whose orchestra is comprised mostly of San Jose Symphony players--was also on everyone's mind, not least San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, who spoke from the stage of his enthusiastic support for an envisioned Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley.

If tension augurs release, the Saturday audience rose to the bait. Conductor Leonid Grin and his big band could do nothing wrong. With an audience so loaded for entertainment, Grin came through with nothing less than Bernsteinian podium choreography, exhorting his orchestra to urgent propulsion as it passed from one big tune to the next in Robert Russell Bennett's vivaciously arranged concert suite from Porgy and Bess. As the world's biggest dance band, the San Joseans inspired toes to tap inside shoes all over the hall, particularly in those latter numbers motivated by a traditional jazz drum set. Players in the oboe section, a solo offstage trumpet, saxophones and a banjo gained a new distinction before a symphonic display that Gershwin himself never imagined and would never hear.

If Grin appeared in an Errol Flynn shirt, the soloist for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B flat Minor, Tzimon Barto, wore the Jerry Seinfeld version, pleated to the nines, both front and back, and stiff as a straitjacket. Perhaps that explains why Barto buckled no swash in the opening movement.

The piano itself had a hard time speaking until, at last, Barto reached the big solo cadenza. Now the soloist ruminated widely, with generous tempo variations and dynamic contrasts. At a new level, he and Grin brought the movement to a rousing climax, provoking considerable applause from the aroused audience. ("Good job," barked one female patron with a heavy Almaden Valley accent.)

Flutist Maria Tamburrino set the slow movement's sweet melancholy, and Barto returned to his circumspect ways, personal, idiomatic and not especially Russian in flavor. The first stand of cellos echoed the theme, but not exactly together. (Isn't that part usually played solo? And, indeed, what a good idea.)

In the final movement, Barto opted for breakneck runs whenever possible, and the piano spoke in kind. The fuoco indicated by the composer caught fire and, at the last chord, so did the audience, rising to its feet as one person, whistling and shouting its approval with athletic, even Olympian, gusto. Performance casualties were few and far between. The main thing was our team won.

Gonzales' remarks at the start raised more questions than they answered. In short, he is taking a proposal to the San Jose City Council to match funds at the rate of $25 for every $100 raised by the newly renamed Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley. As widely reported, the ballet has contracted 31 of the 38 company dancers in Cleveland and, with adjustments in programming, will proceed with the 2000-2001 season. According to publicist Lee Kopp, this will require raising the ballet's budget to $6.5 million, which is virtually the same as that of the San Jose Symphony.

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From the September 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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