By Ted AYALA
David Lockington has plenty reason to smile these days.
The English-born conductor has nearly wrapped up his first season at the helm of the Pasadena Symphony (he also currently holds the music directorship at the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan). By all accounts it has been an audience and critical success.
“It’s a sheer joy to conduct the Pasadena Symphony,” Lockington said. “There’s a lot of time pressure to produce something beautiful and polished and everybody works hard to make that happen. They know how to work together and are responsive to my directions. What more could I want?”
This Saturday, May 2, will see the Pasadena Symphony and the conductor end their first season together in a program of works by Grieg, Prokofiev and Christopher Rouse. They will be joined by pianist Gabriela Martinez in Greig’s deathless, “Piano Concerto.”
The main goal in his first season in Pasadena, Lockington explained, was to “establish trust” with the orchestra. During the Pasadena Symphony’s period of limbo, during which they entertained a rotating list of guest conductors, their playing, while remaining at a very high technical level, could sometimes veer toward the dull. That impression was dispelled immediately in their first concert together after Lockington was named music director. The orchestra’s polish was fused with a high-octane charge not heard since the days of Jorge Mester’s tenure.
The inclusion of Rouse’s “Rapture” in this Saturday’s concerts also recalled Mester’s excellence as a champion of contemporary music, which he often peppered his Pasadena programs with. (During his tenure at the head of the Louisville Orchestra, Mester had collaborated with some of the most important composers of the late 20th century including Witold Lutoslawski, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Karel Husa.)
“I believe this time marks a great renaissance in composition,” Lockington said. “We are fortunate to live in a time when composers can tap into all styles of writing and create something uniquely personal. I am hoping in the future to build a repertoire of serious works. It will take time because [composers] are so busy, but I think it could be a very rewarding project.”
He went on to praise Rouse’s music for its “big gestures,” which he said sometimes can be “very aggressive.”
“[In ‘Rapture’ there] is a gradual increase in intensity and pace so that by the end we are really flying,” he said. “On the way there are moments of beautiful reflection and awe. I have performed this piece before and it has stayed with me. There are sections that are written freely against a flowing backdrop and I enjoy the kind of improvisational feel of it. The tonal resolution comes just before the end at the moment of greatest speed so the effect is really ecstatic.”
The Pasadena Symphony’s final concert of its 2014-15 season will take place this Saturday, May 2 at the Ambassador Auditorium (131 S. St. John Ave., Pasadena). An afternoon matinee concert at 2 p.m. will be followed by a repeat of the same program at 8 p.m. Both concerts will be preceded by lectures one hour prior to their start. For tickets and more information, visit www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org or call (626) 793-7172.