Masterful finish to LB Symphony season
By John Farrell
Article Launched: 06/17/2008 07:19:12 AM PDT
Enrique Arturo Diemecke, the Symphony's current music director, was hired by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra in April 2001 after an intense search.
Music director Enrique Arturo Diemecke inherited a fine orchestra when he came to Long Beach six years ago. He has transformed it into a superb one, as responsive as any in the Southland, with a rich, elegant sound and the talent and energy to tackle works requiring gentle simplicity and works requiring tearing power and elemental force. He also has introduced local audiences to modern and less-heard works as well as the beloved and more familiar. And Diemecke, who is also music director of the Mexico City Philharmonic, has also championed Mexican composers in Long Beach with much success, including Saturday night in the orchestra's final concert of the season.
The evening opened with "Huapango," Jos Pablo Moncayo's delightful orchestral dance suite that combines three Mexican dances into a powerful and brilliant orchestral work that demands more than just musical precision from its performers. After the concert Diemecke spoke to orchestral supporters and said he didn't want a "Tex-Mex" performance with microwaved cheese melted on top, rather one with a little dirt in it, with the gritty feeling of the original dances intact. The orchestra has played the work before (and Diemecke conducted it at Disney Hall a week earlier with the Mexico City Philharmonic) and performed it with the real "grit" Diemecke wants, full of bright colors, rhythmic detail and a lively, even raucous pulse.
In the last two seasons especially, Diemecke has made a point of drawing instrumental soloists from the orchestra's ranks. Saturday it was Katia Popov, the orchestra's principal second violin, who came on stage in an elegant, clingy light yellow gown to take on the considerable challenges of "Fire and Blood," a 2003 concerto for violin and orchestra written by Michael Daugherty, based on murals by Diego Rivera that are housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Rivera was commissioned by Edsel Ford to paint the works, and the artist spent considerable time at Ford's automobile plant in Detroit before painting the two huge murals. They celebrate workers at the Ford assembly line and also contain a tribute to human life and to the miscarried child that Rivera's wife, artist Frida Kahlo, had during the creation of the paintings.
From those ideas, Daugherty created a three-movement work that reflects both Rivera and the murals' subject. The first, "Volcano," refers to the fiery steel-making process, the even fierier mountains of Rivera's Mexico and the painter's turbulent personality. The second, "River Rouge" (named after the Ford plant), is a delicate and moving musical examination of life and love, which Popov made into an impressively passionate musical painting, mixing joy with solemnity and sadness.
The third movement, "Assembly Line," pulses with the mechanical energy of the industrial process. Even if you hadn't read the program notes or heard the brief pre-performance lecture and slide show by Gregorio Luke (former director of the Museum of Latin American Art), you might still recognize the mechanical clatter in the heart of the movement. Popov's musical voice was powerful, rich and full of life, her technique flawless and the collaboration with Diemecke delicately exact.
Beethoven filled the concert's second half. First came the heroics of the "Egmont" overture, full of the passion for liberty and righteous victory that the composer loved. The orchestra gave it a flawless, sharply regimented reading. In Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, the first movement shifted gears from elegiac slowness to rapid dance time with delicate surprise, and the celebrated second movement moved with a slow, rich elegance that Diemecke enhanced with delicate control. The finale was played with breathtaking speed and equally breathtaking precision, especially when, in the coda, Diemecke upped the tempo just a bit for dramatic effect.
John Farrell is a Long Beach freelance writer.