By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Pasadena Symphony; David Lockington, conductor
Sawyers: The Gale of Life. Elgar. Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 (Andrew Shulman, soloist)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56, (Scottish)
Saturday, January 14, 2012 • Ambassador Auditorium
Next concert: Feb. 18, 2012
There was a multiplicity of themes associated with the Pasadena Symphony concert yesterday afternoon at Ambassador Auditorium (which was repeated last night). The predominant theme was Britain: two of the three composers were English, the guest conductor (David Lockington) and cello soloist (Andrew Shulman) were born in England but now live in the U.S, and the concluding work on the program was Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (Scottish).
Prior to the performance, Lockington — music director of the Grand Rapids and Modesto Symphonies — described the program’s theme as “Looking Back.” Mendelssohn, who began the symphony at age 21 and completed it 12 years later, was recalling a trip he made to Scotland as a teenager in 1829. Elgar, said Lockington, was looking back on the wreckage of World War I when he wrote his Cello Concerto in 1919 (the program note by Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn said, “It isn’t a requiem for the war dead, but rather for a lost way of life, the end of a civilization”). Even Sawyers’ piece, which was composed in 2008, uses as its text the poem On Wenlock Edge from the 1896 cycle A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman.
A third theme was friendship. Lockington and Shulman played cello together in the National Youth Orchestra of Britain more than 30 years ago, and Lockington and Sawyers are now friends. And a final theme was uniform excellence, as in the performances Lockington, Shulman and the orchestra delivered throughout the concert.
The program’s centerpiece — in placement, as well as in performance — was Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Shulman captured the work’s aching melancholy (the first three movements begin Adagio, Lento and Adagio) superbly with his silky tone and expressive musicality, while Lockington and the orchestra accompanied sensitively.
The opening work, The Gale of Life — a 10-minute concert overture that ends by alluding to the “Witches’ Sabbath” ending of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique — received an exuberant reading from Lockington and the ensemble; they brought out sympathetically all of Sawyers’ musical metaphors of the windy cliffs of Wenlock’s Edge on the England coast.
Lockington’s concept of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony was to imbue the reading with stately grandeur; call it “Mendelssohn a la Elgar.” The orchestra was in top-notch form, playing with impressive rhythmic precision in the second movement and displaying a lush sound from all sections — but particularly from the strings — throughout the performance.
• One other tie in the concert concerns Lockington and Paul Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association. Prior to coming to Pasadena, Zdunek held a similar position with the Modesto Symphony where one of his moves was to bring Lockington on board as that orchestra’s music director in 2007.
• With Shulman scheduled to conduct next weekend’s Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts (Jan. 21 at the Alex Theater and Jan. 22 at UCLA’s Royce Hall), LACO and the PSO took the opportunity to do some cross-promotion by inserting a flyer with a 20% ticket discount for the LACO concerts. Smart move, IMHO. Shulman will lead LACO in Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Violin Concerto No. 3, along with Walton’s Sonata for Strings. A link to my article on Shulman and the PSO and LACO concerts is HERE.
• Emulating LACO’s “Sound Investment” commissioning program, the PSO has begun its “Fresh Ink Society,” which will commission and make possible the performance of the Symphony No. 1 by Peter Boyer as part of the opening concert on the PSO’s 2012-2013 season. One of Boyer’s numerous compositions, Ellis Island: The Dream of America, which was premiered in 2002, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. For more information on the “Fresh Ink Society” or to make a contribution, call 626/793-7172.
• Lockington’s “Looking Back” theme got me to recall the first time I heard Elgar’s Cello Concerto in concert, in 1975, when the great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky was scheduled as soloist in he concerto at a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert. Zubin Mehta was the conductor, I think it was opening night, and I believe the other work on the program was Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Ronald Leonard had just been named the Phil’s Principal Cellist and when Piatigorsky had to cancel at the last minute, Leonard stepped in, which meant his first notes in his new position were the opening lines of the Cello Concerto (the soloist begins the piece). As I recall, Leonard played it beautifully, but I’ll always remember it more for his ability to rise to an unexpected challenge successfully.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.
"Our DSO to Go app has not only helped our live webcasts reach tremendous success around the globe, but has been an accessible sales channel for many first-time concertgoers without prior ticket or contribution history."