PSO Ends Season with Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Boyer


The Pasadena Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Saturday afternoon marked not only the end of its 2012-13 season, it was also the final chapter in a brief, and sometimes turbulent, period in the orchestra’s history that was triggered in May 2010 by the unexpected dismissal of Jorge Mester. Mester had been the orchestra’s long-serving music director. During the subsequent three seasons, the orchestra played host to quite a few guest conductors. Two of those guest conductors – David Lockington and Nicholas McGegan – were appointed music director and principal guest conductor respectively. Lockington will fully assume his duties in the 2014-15 season.

It’s an occasion to celebrate then, and local composer Peter Boyer’s “Symphony No. 1” was the music that rang in the festivities.

A three-movement work lasting just under 30 minutes, it called to mind Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s “Symphony in F-sharp,” a parallel that was especially apparent in the finale of the Boyer symphony, which had a whiff of the Brucknerian opulence of the Korngold’s slow movement.

The symphony also bore the fingerprints of a few other composers: Roy Harris, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, to whose memory the symphony was dedicated.

It is likeable music, even if it lacks contrast. A bit of darkness and shading would have done wonders to offset the music’s earnest brilliance. The same could be said of Boyer’s “Festivities,” which opened the program.

The other major work was Tchaikovsky’s deathless “Violin Concerto” which, as it turned out, also suffered from similar issues.

Violinist Chee-Yun and conductor José Luis Gomez seemed to conceive their interpretation of the concerto from the middle movement out. Instead of capturing the lusty vigor of the outer movements – this was music that, after all, was said by one stodgy German music critic to be reeking of vodka – they miniaturized the piece, turning it into a charming, but somewhat bland salon piece. It was as if the sometimes rowdy muzhiks that kick up a dance in the outer movements were forced to go clean-shaven and deck themselves in their Sunday best. It was slow, very legato, very beautiful – but it all sounded like an extension of the central “Canzonetta.”

Chee-Yun’s technique was on better display in the more modest dimensions of her encore piece, Fritz Kreisler’s “Recitative and Scherzino.”

Alexander Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia” opened the program’s second half. It, too, was afflicted by the case of the slows, though perhaps it was the sense of rhythm that was off.

The orchestra acquitted  itself wonderfully, nevertheless, with some especially lovely playing heard from flutist Louise diTullio and clarinettist Phillip O’Connor.