Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: Romeo and Juliet

Dates and Venue 2 March 2012, 8pm at the Orpheum Theatre & 4 March 2013, 8pm at Centennial Theatre, North Vancouver

Programme Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

Conductor Jose Luis Gomez Featured performer Dina Yoffe, piano

Reviewer John Jane

For those of us who frequently tune in to the classical concerts on PBS, we already know about the Venezuelan-born conductor José Luis Gomez. After all, he is as famous for his shoulder length hair as his interpretive insight. What I hadn’t been aware of was his talent as a presenter.

Maestro Gomez stepped off the podium to welcome the audience to his personal introduction of the first selection Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, then again later for the final selection of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. During the short break, while stage hands rolled out the Steinway for Dina Yoffe’s performance of Chopin’s concerto, the audience was treated to a multi-media presentation of the multi-lingual conductor’s interview with piano virtuoso Dina Yoffe.

Mussorgsky was one of a group of Russian composers known as “The Mighty Five” that also included Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. His orchestral tone poem Night on Bald Mountain exploits dynamic variances to create the famously dark haunting effect. Many listeners are acquainted with the work through the Disney animated film Fantasia.

Inspired by a crush on a young singer at the Warsaw Conservatory, Frédéric Chopin wrote his Piano concerto No.2 before concerto No.1, although it was published much later. The sparkling first movement Maestoso featured solo bassoonist Julia Lockhart. The slower tempo second movement, Larghetto has a cinematic feel, while in the third movement we hear the influence of Chopin’s Polish heritage. Ms Yoffe displayed supple dexterity and glittering technique interpreting Chopin’s concerto. She plays with such understanding that it almost conveyed the impression it was her own work.

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is one of the most enduring ballet scores of all time. Originally published as three suites, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra led by Maestro Gomez performed the work from two suites of ten movements. Among the most recognizable (to me, at least) is Dance of the Knights, which the orchestra played with fastidiously calibrated orchestration. However, it was the first movement, Montagues and Capulets, featuring an august flute solo by Christie Reside, that best illustrated the composer’s sense of dynamic contrast.

José Luis Gomez seemed sincere in his praise of the orchestra and remarked that he hoped to return to Vancouver in the future. Undoubtedly, the audience would reciprocate the feeling – any time Maestro!

© 2013 John Jane