Local opinion on the value of the city's 1989 Soviet Arts Festival was sharply divided. Boosters saw it as a great artistic windfall, while detractors painted it as a colossal misuse of civic funds.
But one unquestionable dividend has been the lasting relationship between the San Diego Symphony and Georgian conductor Jansoug Kakhidze, who came to the festival to conduct San Diego Opera's "Boris Godunov."
Ironically, Kakhidze was the San Diego Symphony's festival fill-in when its initial Russian guest conductor canceled. His authority and panache on the podium in 1989 easily set him apart from the depressing parade of routine guest conductors that marched through Copley Symphony Hall in the years before Yoav Talmi was appointed music director.
In two subsequent local appearances, Kakhidze's stature only increased. Thursday night at Copley Symphony Hall, his beautifully proportioned account of Dvorak's Sixth Symphony elevated the San Diego Symphony to the apogee of its current season. Warmth of sound, cohesive ensemble and unforced exuberance characterized the orchestra under Kakhidze's leadership. From the sunny majesty of Dvorak's opening movement to the bucolic innocence of the adagio and the vibrant dances of the scherzo, no emotional nuance was slighted. Yet everything unfolded with a sublime inevitability.
With his elegant bearing and shock of white hair, Kakhidze looks like the archetypal maestro sent straight from central casting. But there is much more to his podium magic than good posture. His intensely detailed, yet immaculately disciplined gestures quickly swept from section to section, drawing out those counter melodies and inner accents that kept the work vital.
Japanese violinist Yuzuko Horigome brought her ravishing sound and immaculate technique to Bruch's Scottish Fantasy. There are more muscular and more extroverted interpretations of this warhorse, but few could match Horigome's sonic purity, seamless phrasing and the dreamy poetry of her opening movement. Kakhidze and the orchestra displayed the good manners to accommodate her delicate arabesques with a suitably hushed accompaniment. Only in the variations of final movement did Horigome rush and smudge an otherwise immaculate ensemble.
Kakhidze, chief conductor of the State Symphony of Georgia and Tbilisi's Paliashvili Opera, opened his program on a light note with Rodion Shchedrin's "Ozorniye Chastushki," sometimes translated as "Naughty Limericks." A tongue-in-cheek essay by one of Russia's most talented contemporary composers, the work bristled with nervous, jazzy, overlapping tunes--a raucous traffic jam without Gershwin's taxi horns. Tonal but not simple-minded, Shchedrin's opus proved amusing and lightweight without the vacuity that pervades so much American orchestral pops fare.