Classically Trained: New piece like a 'familiar soundtrack'

One could call it a concert of the masters.

A mastery of the piano, intimate and serene.

A performance of the master's symphony, with all its shades of grandeur, subtle and striking.

Inspiration from a master of science, whose celestial revelations helped shed light upon mysteries of the night skies.

The Pacific Symphony's Jan. 12 concert of trademark Chopin and Tchaikovsky — and a new work by Osvaldo Golijov — wasn't without its faults, though those faults as a whole did not upset what was an otherwise enjoyable evening that's typical and expected for Carl St.Clair and his orchestra.

The Golijov piece, "Sidereus," was intriguing. Inspired by a famous book of Galileo's observations, the work did elicit into the listener's mind the famed astronomer.

The frenetic flourishes of repeating ostinatos in "Sidereus" danced about the otherwise smooth underpinning. I imagined the mind of an excited Galileo, not yet widely known as a master of his astronomical craft, milling about with the possibilities of space as he gazed into his telescope. Before his eyes were the distant images of the cosmos, the answers to which remain mysterious today.

Still, "Sidereus" seemed to be a familiar soundtrack. At the very least, it was a superior rendition of styles we've already heard in space documentaries. And while I didn't feel like it necessarily trailblazed over new musical ground, that didn't hurt my liking of it. The familiarity and accessibility are part of the work's strength, and time will tell if Golijov's commissioned piece becomes standard orchestra repertoire everywhere.

Chopin's "Piano Concerto No. 2" put us back on Earth after hearing music from the stars. The beautiful, fluid ease by which piano virtuoso Dejan Lazic presented was constantly inspiring. Compared to the comparatively showy and bombastic piano concertos usually occupying the stage grandstand — that can be wonderful in their own ways, to be sure — it was refreshing to hear the more restrained Chopin by two skilled hands.

Lazic played with a flavor of emotional sensitivity to savor, especially in the Larghetto. He kept it appropriately delicate when need be, and so did his accompanying orchestra.

I felt more mixed about the symphony's rendition of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. At first the orchestra seemed slow — like the tempos taken throughout all four movements — to fold its varied sounds within the larger solidified texture, to achieve a defined balance. This seemed especially true among the brass sections.

Everybody finally got it, though, somewhere in that waltzy third movement. And by the time the finale came around, the orchestra seemed knowing of where it was going better than when it started. All sections came in line and found their footing to make a wonderful thing: Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.

Still, I found the Pacific Symphony that Thursday night to be at its best when playing at its softest — an aspect I can't say is generally true from what I've heard at previous concerts.

Going back to the slow tempos St.Clair took, I, frankly, will almost never mind taking things slow, especially in an intricate opus like a Tchaikovsky symphony. The better the conductor elaborates the composer's flourishes, be they colorful, tragic or triumphant, the more the audience can appreciate them. To this effect, there was much to appreciate with St.Clair's interpretation.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. Email him story ideas at

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