Sunday, May 17, 2015

concert review: Modesto Symphony

And what concert program attracted me to Modesto, a two-hour drive away? Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony, a glorious choral-orchestral work that you don't get to hear very often. This was, I think, my fourth live performance of it, and I've been seeking them out.

I was clued in as to what this slightly esoteric selection was doing occupying a whole program in Modesto (they didn't play anything else) when conductor David Lockington walked on stage and, on opening his mouth to deliver some pre-concert blither, proved to be British.

It was a workmanlike performance. The orchestra was certainly adequate at the very least, as were soprano Amanda Hall and baritone Philip Cutlip (that's a terrible name for a singer). The large chorus, the orchestra's own supplemented by chorales from the local state university, was so oriented towards a welling of sound and away from diction that I couldn't make out where we were in the libretto even with the words open right in front of me.

Perhaps because of that quality in the chorus, Lockington, like Andre Previn in his recording of the work, tried to put the focus on the orchestra. The problem was that, unlike the chorus, the orchestra was slightly undersized, so that didn't really work.

As long as I was there, I decided to attend the afternoon concert of the senior and junior youth orchestras too. Good string intonation for lower-tier youth groups, but they need work on the sound quality, which seemed to be coming out of a fish tank. The senior orchestra lacks a trumpet player this year, which made it a puzzling mistake to program Copland's "Hoe-Down", a piece depending on one. The adult ringer who played the part was absolutely terrible, miles worse than any of the high-school students surrounding him.

Both concerts were held in the larger of the two theaters at a sumptuous new CPA downtown, named (of course) the Gallo Center for the Arts (well, this is Modesto). Out on the street I found a historical placard commemorating the American Graffiti cruising route. There are also street signs reading "No Cruising," sic transit. Between concerts I went out to the west side, the shadier side of town, to have some really good bbq ribs for dinner, another reason it was worth the while to go to Modesto. There is good bbq in Northern California, you just have to travel way out into the periphery to find it.

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