Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: The Philharmonic's 'JCD Era' delivers on its promise

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 11:02 AM

It was a much-heralded debut, but it was also a kind of homecoming. This weekend's performances by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic marked the return of internationally acclaimed conductor Josep Caballe-Domenech, who had filled in on short notice twice due to the illness of outgoing music director Lawrence Leighton Smith.

On Saturday evening at the Pikes Peak Center, Caballe-Domenech conducted the Philharmonic for the first time in his new role as Leighton Smith's successor. And as the rafter-shaking ovation from the packed house confirmed, it was an inspired, masterful performance, one that demonstrated the close rapport already developing between conductor and musicians.

Following a briskly moving rendition of the national anthem — appropriate to the Barcelona-born conductor's "arrival" in America — the concert program opened on familiar ground with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring pianist Norman Krieger. From there, it moved on to considerably more esoteric terrain with Mahler's first symphony, Titan.

The elegiac strings that open the symphony's first movement would not have seemed out of place in the work of contemporary ambient and minimalist composers, while subsequent mood swings — from an interpolation of the children's round, "Frere Jacques," to trace elements of Klezmer folk music — led up to a stunning, brassy finale that proved genuinely electrifying.

It will be interesting to see where Caballe-Domenech takes the Philharmonic in the years ahead. Prior to the performance, he suggested that contemporary composers such as John Adams will no longer be segregated into a Vanguard series, a change he first hinted at in his Indy interview back in March.

This weekend also marked the first time since the 1980s that the venue's backstage was reconfigured and restored to its originally intended layout, to operate as a kind of resonating chamber from which the sound is projected into the theater, creating a more dynamic overall sound.

Over the course of this next season, Caballe-Domenech's existing international commitments will limit the number of performances he conducts here in Colorado Springs, which is the initial tradeoff that comes with bringing on board an in-demand artist who wasn't one of the original candidates for the position.

Caballe-Domenech next returns to the Springs in March for a program of Borodin, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, featuring special guest Itzhak Perlman.

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