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Symphony Sets Sail

Sergiu Comissiona leads Symphony Silicon Valley in first concerts at its new home

By Scott MacClelland

LAUNCHING its new season at the California Theatre, Symphony Silicon Valley celebrates the venerable auditorium's long career as a movie palace with a program of music composed for or heard in motion pictures. In the former category are Aaron Copland's suite from the score for Steinbeck's The Red Pony and music from Erich Korngold's score for Robin Hood; in the latter, the vividly colorful orchestration by Robert Russell Bennett of music from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

At the same time, the symphony introduces internationally esteemed conductor Sergiu Comissiona. Actually, Comissiona conducted this orchestra several seasons ago when it was the San Jose Symphony. During a telephone conversation last week, the Romania-born conductor recalled fond memories of these musicians. And though he said he was not a specialist in movie music, he knew and admired the music in this case. "If you like the program, praise me," he declared. "If you don't, blame the management."

Comissiona's peripatetic career began to come together after he emigrated to Israel following World War II. (Having applied, he was fired from his position with the opera in Bucharest and blackballed from any musical work there for more than a year before being granted an exit visa.) But his fortunes "expanded geometrically" once he began conducting again with opportunities opening in Britain, Europe and the United States.

A half-century later, he retains close, and now honored, connections to his native country, where he goes annually to conduct works by Romanian composers. Until his was in his early 30s, he says, his podium skills were "a copy of someone else." (Early influences were Constantin Silvestri and George Georgescu.) "But then," he explains, "I had to become Comissiona."

The symphony's season of seven subscription programs, each to be played twice at the California Theatre, will return several guest conductors and introduce others. Later this month, Patrick Flynn will conduct Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and John Corigliano's Violin Concerto (chaconne) from his score for the film The Red Violin, featuring concertmaster Robin Mayforth. (The Corigliano had its regional premiere in a Cabrillo Festival program at San Juan Bautista in 1998.)

In December, Thomas Conlin and the orchestra will be joined by the San Jose State University choirs for a holiday-inspired program of Benjamin Britten's Men of Good Will, Francis Poulenc's Gloria and choruses from Wagner operas.

Paul Polivnik returns in January for Stravinsky's tone poem Song of the Nightingale, Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Sibelius' Violin Concerto featuring Ju-Young Baek. British conductor William Boughton, who conducted the San Francisco Symphony several seasons ago in Holst's The Planets at Flint Center, appears in February for Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto, a Schumann symphony and Arthur Sullivan's rarely heard Pineapple Poll.

Horn soloist Richard Todd will play Richard Strauss' Concerto no. 1 at the end of April with conductor Lan Shui leading that composer's Don Juan and Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. Mallory Thompson and teenage pianist Natasha Peremski return in late May for Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto no. 2 in C Minor, a program that also includes Rossini's Barber of Seville overture and Brahms' Symphony no. 2.

At Opera San José's recent production of The Marriage of Figaro, acoustics at the California proved both appealing and flattering of the pit orchestra. But the sound from the pit doesn't test acoustics the way a full symphony orchestra onstage will. While acoustics at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts and Flint Center have certain limitations, they each also have their strengths. By comparison, expectations of the California's acoustics start at a relative high level. At the same time, virtually no concert hall offers ideal acoustics all the time and in every spot in the house. Best for planning future ticket purchases would be to hear the SSV in the orchestra seats, both in front of and under the balcony, and in the balcony as well.

Symphony Silicon Valley performs Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. (408.286.2600)

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From the October 6-12, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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