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When Sports and Arts Cross Paths

Symphony Hall
09/20/2012 -  & September 21 (Scottsdale Center for the Arts), 22 (Symphony Hall), 2012
Leonard Bernstein: Overture to Candide – Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Johannes Brahms: Hungarian Dances Nos 5 in g minor & 6 in D Major
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61

Elena Urioste (violin)
Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Hicks (Conductor)

L. Fitzgerald (© Bruce Yueng)

Phoenix Symphony kicks off the new season with two promising talents and special guest Arizona Cardinals’ star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald - a confirmed talent -, trading pads for baton, to conduct the National Anthem. Fine job, Fitz, the Star Spangled Banner was placed in good hands and unfolded with grace.

Although she claims she prefers pop, guest conductor Sarah Hicks also serves the standard symphonic literature with integrity and verve. Last night’s program did not venture outside the beaten bush - except for the cadenzas in the Beethoven - but it showcased her versatility and aptitude in both repertoires.

Bernstein’s overture to Candide is delivered with the expected quick-paced and feverish excitement, an appreciable together ensemble and enthusiasm that, in some occasions, may have endangered the utmost transparency. The Phoenix Symphony seems more at ease in the symphonic dances from West Side Story where Hicks and PSO beautifully bring out the sweet, furious, and brazen facets of the score. Perfect clarity from the brass and kuddoz to percussions.

Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No 5 starts off in a quasi-Karajan-esque whirlwind - to the occasional detriment of transparency - but soon finds the required zest, while the playing of No 6 is sprightly and energetic, joyous and melancholy in turn, with adequate control over the abrupt tempo variations.

E. Urioste (© Chab Lathion/LDD)

The pièce de résistance of the evening was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, an Everest for each new generation of violinists. Elena Urioste, an alumna of the Curtis Music Institute and the Julliard School, has already garnered attention from the public and the media. She plays on a 1706 Alessandro Gagliano violin with its distinctive fiery golden-red varnish. The tonal quality of her instrument could be described as mellow on the G and D strings, and delightfully silvery on A and E. Ms. Urioste meanders through this demanding score with impressive technique and fiery style. However, as brilliant as her playing is, she does not seem to have found a personal and intimate reading of this iconic concerto yet. Instead, she widens the emotional spectrum, indulges in ample lyricism with frequent use of rubato. The music is profoundly moving as Beethoven wrote it and does not call for added pathos. Conversely, she occasionally withholds feelings to the point of sounding somewhat aloof. But this is a matter of taste, I suppose, and the overall delivery remains remarkable. Ms. Urioste plays the rarely heard Joseph Silverstein’s cadenzas, a nice change from the acrobatic and dignified Kreisler cadenzas. On the podium, Maestra Sarah Hicks maintains effective interplay between the soloist and the orchestra, keeping the performance consistently stimulating. She draws biting sound and well-balanced orchestral work from all departments, with brass nicely present, crisply articulated and not swamped in by the strings, a beautiful tone from the woodwinds in the Larghetto, and a well-phrased albeit short dialogue between Urioste and principal bassoonist Bonnie Wolfgang in the third movement. Hicks’ approach is Hectorian and “muscular,” in deep contrast with a lyrical, sensitive violin.

This appealing performance was greeted by a highly appreciative audience. Maybe just a little too appreciative if we judge by the numerous standing ovations. The latter have become so common these days that soon they will be meaningless. Another etiquette faux-pas was the applause between the first and second movement of the violin concerto.

We certainly look forward to PSO’s continued success this new season. Maybe one day will we see those fine musicians donning the Cardinals jersey and playing in the imposing University of Phoenix Stadium. After crossing paths and sharing a stage, elite sportsmen and artists should now share a field...

Watch L. Fitzgerald conduct the National Anthem
Elena Urioste’s Website
Listen to Elena Urioste

Christian Dalzon



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