Local residents interested in a free and relaxed symphony concert could have come by Courthouse Square in downtown Redwood City on Saturday, June 23, for the Redwood Symphony’s annual outdoor event.
The concert began at 7 p.m. and ran for just over an hour, nicely bracketing the time between the sun’s disappearance behind the palm trees and its actual setting. The concrete half-block, filled with comfortable outdoor chairs, with lots of additional audience members sitting on the steps to the side or standing in the back, was warm and comfortable, not blazing hot. When I arrived, a quarter hour before showtime, a brass quintet was playing “When I’m 64” and a medley of hymns.
Outdoor concerts are often pop programs with lots of movie music, but this year Music Director Eric K decided to present a serious, though not heavy, symphonic program, with two full-sized and popular works by major composers — Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” and Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. For the sake of new concertgoers not used to long instrumental works, Dr. K introduced these from the podium, having the orchestra play themes that could serve as landmarks. The concert concluded with a couple brief orchestral excerpts from Bizet’s “Carmen.”
The performers, dressed in street clothes, consisted of about two-thirds of the full all-volunteer orchestra. The Rimsky, with its prominent and well-played instrumental solos, was tighter and more accomplished than the Mendelssohn, but the entire concert was enjoyable. It should be enough to teach new audiences that all three composers have something appealing to offer.
Of course, in an outdoor concert, sound quality is always an issue. The performers sat underneath tents, but those were for shade, not acoustics. A battery of microphones hovered over the instruments and the concert emerged mostly through speakers. This inevitably coarsened the sound, but not so badly as to distort it. In the opening minutes there were some weird sound balances, but the experienced sound engineer picked up on this. The balances — a tricky thing to achieve when covering everything from soft violins to blaring trumpets — soon improved.
Some audience members brought picnic dinners along. Others dined early at nearby restaurants and had the concert for dessert. It was a light and rewarding little post-meal digestif.
Redwood Symphony will next be heard at its regular home, the main theater of Cañada College, on Saturday, July 21, with another popular concert, a collection of Broadway musical theater “songs of love and longing,” covering the chronological range from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim. Four singers will be featured: Shawna Gonzales, Carly Honfi, Jonathan Chan and Matthew Hall.
The orchestra’s regular season begins in the fall on Saturday, Sept. 22, also at Cañada College. This first concert will feature Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto, with local soloist Tamami Honma, plus a Brahms symphony and music by local favorite and leading living composer Mason Bates.