Under the direction of Ronald Feldman, the Longwood Symphony Orchestra presented “A Concert of Healing” at Jordan Hall Saturday evening. A teenage pianist with all kinds of virtuoso knockout punches by the name of George Li performed in Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
First off, the orchestra’s concert booklet amazed: consider its seemingly endless list of philanthropic friends who support the orchestra; the expert dialogue on the intersection of music and medicine; and, in light of the Boston Marathon bombings, LSO’s support of Community Partner, the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. The power of music was once again made manifest.
Echoes of the Renaissance began the “healing” program on lighter notes with the Salomon Rossi Suite by American composer Lukas Foss (1922-2009). Each of its six little pieces concentrates on different sections of the orchestra. The unusual Andante is a harp and tympani duet. LSO’s “highly trained musicians who are also medical professionals” smartly spun these simple Foss orchestrations of pieces by Salomone Rossi, a singular Jewish composer living between ca. 1570 and 1630.
A switch from Mendelssohn’s second concerto to the first was one of two of the evening’s programmatic changes. The focus centered on young 17-year old George Li from nearby Lexington who attends the Walnut Hill School for the Arts and studies piano at NEC with Wha Kyung Byun. In addition to immense command of volume and velocity, veracity was everywhere in evidence in Li’s performance. His Mendelssohn showed all these qualities. But it was the encore music of Robert Schumann and the Vladimir Horowitz arrangement of Carmen that shed the most light on the young man’s maturing embrace of the keyboard. Both encores drew huge applause from the strong turnout. The real knockout punch came with Li’s dazzling dexterity in the Horowitz demanding blockbuster close.
The second programmatic change in recognition of the victims of the Boston bombing was a conductor-less LSO’s soul-searching iteration of “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations of Elgar.
Another welcome choice was Igor Stravinsky’s Scherzo à la russe. While it was a zinging rendition, it often suffered from decibel overload. The brasses’ merrymaking could not be missed. The entire orchestral effort just missed being a real frolic on account of the instrumental imbalances. More so, the full orchestral refrains surpassed obligatory transparency for Stravinsky’s multifarious coloration and rhythmic invention to fully shine through. One particular refrain suggesting that squeeze box-like sound of folk accordions, though, could have been made more obvious for the sake of sheer fun and delight. There is no other effect quite like this one that Stravinsky dreamed up.
The big winner on Longwood’s concert of healing left everyone in the hall ecstatic as the orchestra closed in Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2. From the outset, where cascading winds set in motion a soundscape of rapturous beauty, it was obvious that, while this intricate score was not going to be perfectly executed, its very life would be reawakened. Even the romantically inclined swooping and swelling Ravel tailored to his fine French taste was caught by all. There were breathtaking moments everywhere to be found. I could not believe the warm lushness of the strings.
Brasses and winds led the way to an incredible frenzied climax never experienced before. Wild shrieks from the winds growing more and more frenzied, powerful blasts from brasses urging them on, and a driving line of percussion created extraordinary impact. Music Director Ronald Feldman’s baton precision and superbly timed interpretive motioning were as appealing to the eye as they were informative to the ear. Boy, does LSO play this music!