By Ted AYALA
It was a fitting close to a year that has been one of the California Philharmonic’s most eventful – even controversial: the ecstatic, all-consuming affirmation of life that is the finale to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the “Ode to Joy.”
The past year saw the orchestra abruptly leaving its former home at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, unsure where its future concert venue would be. Eventually it found a place just down the street at Santa Anita with orchestra and audience each embracing the new home. Beethoven’s radiant coda then became not only a moment of glory for the composer, but one that encapsulated the orchestra’s months of uncertainty and its eventual triumph.
The music of Carl Maria von Weber and John Williams joined Beethoven on last Saturday’s program celebrating the orchestra’s first season at Santa Anita.
The Overture and Chorus of the Huntsmen from Weber’s Der Freischütz opened the program. Conductor Victor Vener led a stout, deliberate rendition of the overture, brimming with Teutonic weight. It was a conception built from the bottom up with a powerful bass serving as a foundation.
Williams’ exultant music was sandwiched between Weber and Beethoven. As ever, the selections from “Superman,” “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars,” with their brilliant orchestration and swashbuckling melodies, served as effective crowd pleasers.
There were also some interesting selections from Williams’ more subtle work. English pastoralism – and more than a hint of Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” and “The Lark Ascending” – were the hallmarks of the “Dartmoor, 1914” excerpt from the film score to the recent “War Horse.” Subdued military undertones and Copland-ish gentility marked the “Hymn to the Fallen” from Williams’ score to “Saving Private Ryan,” its haunting fade-out of distant fanfares and snare drum tattoo making as indelible impression on the audience.
At the end of the concert, singers Emily Dyer (soprano), Danielle Marcelle Bond (mezzo soprano), Ashley Faatoalia (tenor) and Ben Lowe (baritone) and the California Philharmonic Chorale joined the orchestra for the Beethoven. Again Vener brought to the music denseness, weight. The cello recitative at the start was slow, molded with a roughness appropriate for Beethoven.
The singers were uniformly fine; the California Philharmonic Chorale had both blend and just a hint of roughness needed for this music.
Orchestra and conductor both looked very pleased when the music came to an end. They ought to be. Their first season, a tremendous success, is surely the cornerstone to many more seasons of excellence at their new venue.