By Ted AYALA
No doubt it’s been a rocky path for the Glendale Philharmonic (GPO) until now. Economic woes and injuries to some of its musicians have plagued this ensemble. But like the tough fighter it is, the orchestra has emerged stronger and better, and celebrated its second birthday in grand style on Sunday at Glendale’s First Baptist Church.
Out came Ruslan Biryukov, cellist and founder of the GPO, with a sumptuous birthday cake, all while the audience gleefully sang “Happy Birthday.” It was a touching moment, to be sure. In this era of economic despair, it’s always heartening to see an orchestra prevailing and thriving. But pretty sentiments aside, none of this would really amount to much without an orchestra that doesn’t merely talk the talk. And the GPO most definitely can walk the walk.
Conductor Mikael Avetisyan, the GPO’s music director, has drilled his small but potent ensemble into an instrument of superb nuance, power, and musicianship. The strings – always very fine – sounded better than ever, producing tone of great warmth and energy.
Beginning with Haydn’s “Cello Concerto in D,” Biryukov, at center stage as soloist, brought his peerless precision and intensity to this Rococo gem. Here was Haydn-by-way-of-Moscow with surging dynamics, rich vibrato and an operatic intensity that treated the music as a living thing rather than a mere museum curiosity.
Following were three brief musical chips by Leroy Anderson, with the GPO’s secretary taking a star turn for his notorious “The Typewriter.”
Following intermission was a performance of Sergei Prokofieff’s “Peter and the Wolf,” with deliciously manic narration by comedian and local resident Emo Philips. As fine as the GPO was that night – indeed it was superb, especially the fearsome horns representing the Wolf – his narration nearly stole the show.
Not merely reciting the standard narration, Philips peppered it with his own personality, making a hilarious mess out of this well-worn musical tale. “The most delightful musical fable ever,” he exclaimed, pausing briefly, then squeezing out with a near gasp, “to ever have come out of Stalinist Russia.”
The audience, filling the church to its rafters and including notables such as Mayor Laura Freidman and comedian Bob Odenkirk, went wild. Philips graciously appended as an encore one of his classic comedy bits that, alone, was worth the price of admission.
A wonderful concert that, hopefully, augurs well for its future.
Here’s to hoping that its third birthday is an even more brilliant success.