Monday, July 26, 2010

Alondra de la Parra 1: The New World

The San Francisco Symphony's summer pops series finally acknowledged climate reality and billed this year's edition as "Cool Nights. Hot Classics" since the city is invariably shivering in fog and freezing winds in July. They also delivered on the second half of their marketing promise with four different programs conducted by a new favorite, the 29-year-old Alondra de la Parra (above right), who debuted here last fall with the symphony's Day of the Dead concert.

Last Thursday's concert started with a Duke Ellington piano and orchestra piece called "New World a-Comin'" performed by an impossibly young looking Charlie Albright, above, who played with his nose about an inch from the piano keys but who sounded great.

This was followed by an arrangement of "Old American Songs" by Aaron Copland sung by former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Lucas Meachem, above. He had a difficult time making himself heard over the orchestra in the large Davies Hall barn, except for "I Bought Me a Cat," which was a reminder of what a good actor Meachem can be.

The first half of the concert ended with the finale from Ferde Grofe's 1931 "Grand Canyon Suite," complete with wild storm music, and the orchestra gave a convincing account of music that can sound like schlock.

The crowd throughout the evening, though dressed down and containing plenty of children, was remarkably attentive and actually behaved better than the usual subscription audience. They applauded between movements in the Dvorak symphony, but it was a good enough performance that the clapping was well-deserved. There was even a minor celebrity in attendance, Coach (above), who was one of the returning villains in this year's edition of the reality TV show, "Survivor," which was billed as a showdown between "Heroes vs. Villains."

The second half of the concert was devoted to Dvorak's ninth symphony, "From the New World," which has more memorable tunes than you can believe. Music so overexposed can easily be dull but this performance sounded fresh, committed and beautiful. De la Parra, above, is a wonderful conductor, and if she can make the orchestra sound this good with such little rehearsal, think what she could do with a regular season concert. It's also nice to see a crack in the door of the Conductors' Boys Club, even though Alondra is still a gender anomaly in our advanced twenty-first century.

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