The Glendale Philharmonic opened its second season with a spectacular performance Sunday evening at the First Baptist Church of Glendale. The musicianship, conducting, acoustics and intimacy of the concert were all of the highest order and provided a memorable experience.
Johann Christian Bach's "Cello Concerto in C Minor" kicked off the evening. Acclaimed cellist (and Glendale Philharmonic founder) Ruslan Biryukov was the soloist for this selection, and he set the tone for the concert with a moving rendition of the piece.
The orchestra's accompaniment was flawless, but it was impossible to take one's eyes off of Biryukov as he brought an emotion to his playing that was riveting. From mournful to playful, every note was something to breathe in and appreciate. If the show had ended there, I would have been satisfied. Thankfully it did not.
Maestro Mikael Avetisyan's outstanding ensemble of musicians became the focus in presenting Rossini's "String Sonata No. 2." Playing another technically demanding offering, the orchestra masterfully executed with precision, flair and heart. First chair violoncello Maksim Velichkin, first chair violin (and principal concertmaster) Limor Toren and double bass player Manuel Quintero stood out in a performance that would have impressed both the untrained and most seasoned classical music listener.
Next was a special guest performance by the Glendale Youth Orchestra. Embarking on its 22nd season, this group of musicians ranging from the sixth to 12th grades performed the first movement of Mozart's "31st Symphony." Under the direction of conductor Brad Keimach, these kids practically stole the show.
Playing a piece that is almost a checklist of demanding techniques, the youth orchestra brought the house down. This was no band recital. If one merely listened and could not see the players, there would be no way of knowing it wasn't a seasoned group of playing professionals. Keimach beamed like a proud father as the audience gave the young savants a standing ovation.
Taking the concert into intermission was an interesting set of Armenian folk songs featuring the duduk (a wooden folk instrument similar to a recorder with a reed). Duduk master (and Glendale resident) Ruben Harutyunyan was the featured soloist.
The second half of the concert was simply sublime. Rodion Shchedrin's suite arrangement of George Bizet's "Carmen" was breathtaking. Expecting a glorified overture of the big hit moments of the famous opera, I was overwhelmed by the depth and emotion it evoked. An audience member sitting near me at the end of the performance said, "I didn't think you could experience the sadness of 'Carmen' without the vocals."
The orchestra played two encores including a whimsical number "Plink, Plank, Plunk!" by Leroy Anderson, which was clearly a treat for the musicians. Several of them bobbed their heads and cracked smiles while they played, and the bass player playfully spun his instrument as an exclamation at the conclusion of the piece.
The audience exuberantly expressed its approval inside the concert hall and continued as they spilled out onto the sidewalk following the show.
"That was simply remarkable," said one concert-goer. "I haven't heard better in L.A. or New York" — "or anywhere," offered another.
The city of Glendale can certainly boast about its world-class orchestra. And given the performance of the Glendale Youth Orchestra, the Glendale Phil also can be assured of a strong bench.
LANCE A. WAWER has been a freelance writer for 25 years for publications throughout Southern California.
Who: Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra
What: Positive Motions Concert Series 2010-11