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In Like Flynn

Guest conductor Patrick Flynn led Symphony Silicon Valley to new heights in its new home

By Scott MacClelland

ON THE PODIUM, he may look like an oversized marionette, all legs and arms and gangly gestures, but Patrick Flynn is a musician of rare charisma and insight. Symphony Silicon Valley proved it Sunday afternoon by giving their guest conductor one of their finest performances ever in Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. The standing ovation that followed was altogether warranted—and as spontaneous. Even those who had innocently applauded between movements of Vaughan Williams' English Folksong Suite found themselves caught up in the gripping drama of a richly invented and lavishly orchestrated score too often taken for less than it is.

This was Flynn at his most passionate, giving a highly detailed and nuanced reading that properly paced and balanced its complexities into clarity and impact. From all this attention to detail, Flynn got a bold, fresh account that gave this orchestra a new benchmark. Moreover, it led to results of further significance. First, the musicians sounded noticeably more secure in their "new" acoustic home at the California Theatre. Second, the orchestra sounded fabulous, with lush, beefy strings, full-bodied winds, smooth and creamy brass and vividly articulate percussion. (Peter Nowlen, acting principal horn, played the famous andante cantabile gorgeously with cues from the conductor but with his own stylish phrasing.)

The first test of this second subscription program at the California was Jennifer Higdon's Fanfare Ritmico, of 2000, a storming, erupting celebration of man and his machines. This riotous blaze, opening with a pageant of percussion, concentrates a Bartokian concerto for orchestra and a Brittenian guide to the orchestra—featuring myriad ensembles as well as solo—into six brilliant minutes. Higdon has raced to the head of the class among remarkably gifted American composers of her generation. That she is able to craft such breathtaking complexity and still make it lucid and coherent to performers and audiences alike is nothing short of miraculous. (I wasn't the only one carried away by it and wishing I could hear it again, a wish that would come true following the outburst over the Tchaikovsky when Flynn graciously served it up as an encore.)

Following the charming Vaughan Williams and Higdon's glittering kaleidoscope, concertmaster Robin Mayforth appeared as soloist in John Corigliano's The Red Violin, the concerto from the film score. The piece is a gnarly but haunting set of variations, in the form of a chaconne, which recalled Francois Girard's eccentric movie about the strange adventures of an Italian violin that ultimately winds up stolen (by Samuel L. Jackson) from the auctioneer's block. (What most film critics failed to recognize was Girard's use of musical forms—chaconne, variations and rondo—instead of cinematic forms to spin his fantasy.) Mayforth played fervently but at times was left high and dry by Corigliano's orchestral writing. Associate concertmaster Christina Mok provided solid leadership, as well as excellent solo work, throughout the program.

Symphony Silicon Valley performs again Dec. 11 at 8pm and Dec. 12 at 3pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. The program features guest conductor Thomas Conlin and the San Jose State University Chorale performing works by Britten, Poulenc, Schubert and Wagner. Call 408.286.2600 for ticket information.

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From the November 3-9, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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