By Geoffrey Maingart
Santa Monica, CA(Hollywood Today) 10/2/12/—Sunday September 30th marked the opening concert of the season with the New West Symphony at Barnum Hall in Santa Monica in a beautifully performed program under the direction of their new conductor, Brazilian-born Marcelo Lehninger with violin soloist, Anne Akiko Meyers.
The orchestra plays with an exuberance that was not there before Lehninger’s appointment. He began the concert with the Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg by Wagner and the reading was dynamic if a tad on the slow side. The slower tempo gives the conductor more freedom in interpretation but the tempo needed to move a bit more. The brass section was brilliant and the horn section in particular rival the best in town. Wagner began the opera at a delicate time in his life financially while trying to avoid debtors prison and was rescued by 19 year old Prince of Bavaria who became his sponsor. The premier of the opera in 1868 was a resounding success. This performance was a fine beginning to the concert.
Second on the program was the rarely performed violin concerto by the legendary American composer Samuel Barber, most famous for his Adagio for Strings from his string quartet. The concerto was given a virtuoso reading by the stunning violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Her approach to the concerto is very brilliant and her technique is very fine. For me Barber is very lyrical and romantic and it would have been nice to hear her play many sections in a more relaxed style. The second movement was more like that and beautifully played. The last perpetual motion was a whirlwind in her hands. The tempo was very fast and the orchestra accompaniment was excellent in the hands of Lehninger. Again, she gave a very virtuoso performance. For me the last movement is more of a hoedown and can be played with less force, however it was totally enjoyable and a tour de force in her hands.
A guest at the performance was the teacher of Anne, legendary professor Alice Schoenfeld, who at 90 years of age looks fabulous. She has an amazing energy and is an inspiration to know. Anne dedicated the encore to Schoenfeld, in a heartfelt performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. This was beautifully played and left the audience standing again. A new building will be dedicated to the Schoenfeld’s at USC later this month. Anne Akiko Meyers will be performing at the dedication.
The conductor and orchestra were presented with a million dollar donation in a beautiful moment. Considering that the musicians had agreed to have their salaries cut recently to help save the ensemble, this was a welcome gift. Classic music is suffering in this economy all over as witnessed by the almost strike by the Chicago Symphony and the lockout of the Minneapolis Symphony musicians by their management ongoing now.
Last on the program was the Symphony #8 in G major by Antonin Dvorak. This performance was magnificent and truly establishes the wonderful choice of Marcelo Lehninger as the orchestra’s new conductor. From the opening theme in the cellos to the many themes in the first movement the orchestra was completely inspired by this conductor. The string sound was always full and the winds were also wonderful. The 2nd movement was beautifully played and the violin solo by the concertmaster, Danielle Belen was also very fine. When the brass and horns open up the orchestra is full and dynamic. The trumpet opening in the last movement was brilliant followed again by a fine cello section. Later the horns came in with bells in the air, a la Stokowski, and the sound was fabulous and over the top. This was a great dramatic performance.
There is no question that this orchestra can look forward to a great tenure under the leadership of this energetic maestro, Marcello Lehninger. We can expect to hear many fine performances in the future. We now have 2 great South American conductors in town.