Peninsula Symphony’s concert at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center on Friday, May 11, was described in publicity as running “From Vienna to Silicon Valley.” In program order, it was the other way around.
Mason Bates’ tone poem “Garages of the Valley” was written as a preliminary study for his opera “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.” That opera’s celebrated premiere in Santa Fe last summer may remind listeners what an important current computer Bates is. He is a master of composition that sounds electronic whether it is or is not; this work is purely orchestral. It’s a celebration of the creativity that has occurred in simple tech workshops around this area and gave birth to companies like Apple and Hewlett-Packard. The music is fast and jumpy with vivid shiny color, backed by wood block and other chittering percussion. At first it stutters and stops, sometimes interrupted by deliberately out of tune strings, then it builds up, mutates in the middle to held spectral chords, and finishes up with a bold dance-like climax.
Assistant conductor Chad Goodman led the work with energy and precision, producing an impressive result in the playing. This program was Goodman’s last appearance here as assistant, for he is leaving in the fall to take up the music directorship of the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra.
Each spring, the Peninsula Symphony hosts the previous year’s winner of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition. The honoree at this concert was 19-year-old cellist Jeremy Tai from Cupertino, now a student at Northwestern University. His showpiece was the long and melancholy Cello Concerto by Edward Elgar, a work popularized by the late Jacqueline du Pré, who played it so brilliantly that some other cellists have been scared off.
Tai did not attempt to compete with her. His own bright and dry tone was enough to carry a plain exhibition of this concerto’s long-spanning melodies without any mugging. He performed the distinctive arpeggiated pizzicato chords in the scherzo with simple dispatch. But he broke out into a little justified enthusiasm in the finale. His trading off of themes with the orchestra, led by music director Mitchell Sardou Klein, showed his skill and confidence and hinted at his growth into maturity.
The concert concluded with the Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms, the Viennese composer on the program. The Second is often considered Brahms’ most cheerful symphony, which, this being Brahms, means it’s also fairly melancholy. The Peninsula Symphony, however, was determined to make it as cheerful as possible. The finale in particular was the one of the most chipper and light-hearted versions I’ve heard.
From this it’s evident that, while there were a number of rough passages, the orchestra, as conducted by Klein, was skilled enough to have a collective personality and to impress that on the music. Many of the instruments, especially winds and brass in solo bits, stuck out more than they usually do in Brahms’ blended style. This was a pointy rather than a smooth Brahms. But it had the expansiveness of good Brahms combined with geniality.
This was Peninsula Symphony’s final concert of the season. The fall’s opening concert, on Oct. 27-28, including a Sunday matinee in San Mateo, will feature Soyeon Kate Lee in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, plus Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and the overture to Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.”