Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The Atlanta Symphony, conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya presented a concert with three familiar showcases for orchestra and soloist.  The program included:

Rimsky-Korsakov- Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34
Rachmaninov- Piano Concerto No. 2
Mussorgsky-Ravel-Pictures at an Exhibition

The piano soloist was Horacio Gutierrez. 

This is the kind of program that the Philadelphia under Ormandy would present.  Ormandy knew how to draw in the crowds and how to show off the skill of his wonderful musicians.  He scheduled such works repeatedly, apparently without reservation.  He knew that his orchestra was spectacular when playing such compositions pieces, which often require the use of a very large ensemble.  It was a pleasure to hear the ASO play these three works, which enabled it to demonstrate its skill. 

Gutierrez was masterful in the Rachmaninov.  He plays with a big, but not overwhelming sound.  For the most part, the balance between the soloist and orchestra was on target.  It was an immensely satisfying performance. 

Ravel’s orchestra of Mussorgsky’s Pictures is sometimes startling in the way that it showcases the sections of the orchestra.  Had it not been based on a familiar solo piano work, it might have been called a concerto for orchestra.  The piece pays homage to the paintings of Viktor Hartmann, a friend of Mussorgsky. Much of Hartmann’s work has been lost or destroyed, so we do not have them as a reference, but Ravel’s skill at orchestration made each of the ten paintings on which the piece is based come to life.

Each piece on the program highlighted various players in the orchestra.  Special recognition should go to David Coucheron, concertmaster; Laura Ardan, principal clarinet; Christina Smith, principal flute; Michael Moore, principal tuba; Elisabeth Remy Johnson, principal harpist; the entire percussion section; Mark Yancich, principal timpani; Christopher Rex, principal cello; and the English Horn player, whose name I could not locate in the ASO program. 

Miguel Harth-Bedoya is music director of the Fort Worth Symphony.   Like his counterpart at the Dallas Symphony, Jap Van Zweden, Harth-Bedoya strongly signals his intentions to the players.  He controls the dynamics with both his hands and face.  His baton provides a precise beat and he conducted the program from memory.  The ASO seems to respond well to leaders who take a strong hand, judging by their performance with Van Zweden last season and Harth-Bedoya this season. 

If I was CEO of an orchestra and I had to develop a short-list of candidates to become a music director, these two fine conductors would be on it. (This would only be the case, of course, if the current Music Director was being discussed as a candidate for a more prestigious post- say like in Boston.)   Van Zweden might not see the ASO as a step up from Dallas, but Harth-Bedoya might see it differently from his Forth Worth vantage point.
This was a great concert and the audience appreciated it, although in Atlanta, the audience seems to appreciate everything, given the number of standing ovations it is willing to give.  In this case, the SO was deserved.  

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