With an enormous American flag hanging as a backdrop behind the musicians and colorful Fourth of July bunting draped at the front of the stage, Keith Clark conducted the Pacific Symphony in a program of taut, vigorous music by four American composers--all of whom are still living--at Santa Ana High School on Saturday.
Concession to popular taste was slight: the rambunctious, tender Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s “West Side Story"; an easy-to-take premiere in Richard Nanes’ Symphony for Strings (essentially a buoyant Johann Christian Bach-like symphony seen through the prism of edgy modern harmonies), and free slices of apple pie at intermission.
The other premiere--William Schmidt’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra--proved more knotty and abstract, although its development of the opening Petrouchka-like fanfare and its use of contrast as a thematic element maintained consistent interest.
Evident without question was solo trumpeter Anthony Plog’s virtuosity--in endless trills, precise attacks, and seamless, filigree lines.
Providing the deepest sustenance of the evening, however, was William Schuman’s Symphony No. 3, a masterpiece in symphonic form in which an authentic musical giant can be heard flexing his muscles boldly and authoritatively, blowing apart and resynthesizing 17th-Century forms such as the passacaglia and fugue.
In its virtuoso demands on the players, the work really is a concerto for orchestra, and the Pacific Symphony members rose to the challenge with precision, tense rhythmic drive, lean vibrato and clarity in extended passages of complex counterpoint.
These qualities were evident all evening. But Clark’s conducting occasionally lacked clear focus. The emotional impact of Bernstein’s dances and the end of Schuman’s symphony was relatively low.