Orchestra's performance is smooth and satisfying

Discipline is a requirement for musicians, whether they are playing in an orchestra, soloing or conducting. Sometimes, though, adhering to strict control can subdue the emotional level — as it did in the major work on the program of the New Valley Symphony Orchestra heard Sunday afternoon at the Hall of Liberty, Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills.

Conductor Armen Garabedian was firmly in control of his 40-member orchestra, using his baton with surgical precision throughout the concert. The result was satisfying and smooth playing from the strings and extraordinary performances from the woodwinds and brass sections in the program of the music of George Bizet, Johannes Brahms and George Gershwin.

The power of his baton drew on the talents of his musicians in the Bizet Carmen Suites No. 1 and No. 2, but a precise rendition of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, with pianist Nazeli Atayan soloing in the concert’s opening work, never caught fire.

Gershwin’s composition is considered America’s unique jazz music couched in a classical format. The idea whether “Rhapsody” is serious classical music or a simple linking of tuneful melodies has been debated from its inaugural performance in 1924 to now. Many younger pianists of today are experimenting with the score by adding individual cadenzas, something Gershwin is thought to have done when he performed the piece with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra at its debut.

By the 1950s or so, the Gershwin work had taken on a more somber tone and was taken both seriously and literally. Atayan stayed with that style on the “Rhapsody in Blue” written score, hewing to a strict interpretation with controlled playing. Atayan’s treatment of this celebration of American brashness lacked the energetic, frenetic sense of the jazz scene it attempts to exemplify. Nevertheless, her playing skills are unassailable.

Her note-perfect playing was what many in the audience had come to hear from the widely respected teacher and music consultant and at the conclusion they leaped to their feet to show their approval with enthusiastic applause. She was surrounded on stage by friends, students, family and admirers who showered her with flowers as the applause continued to honor her. The seasoned pianist was overwhelmed to the point of tears. She encored with a dashing version of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.”

Following intermission, Garabedian was back with his perfect tempos, this time with Bizet’s Carmen Suites No.1 and No. 2 , the often-performed music that includes songs from his 1875 opera, “Carmen,” linking together such hummable tunes as “Habañera” and “Song of the Toreador.”

Garabedian led with vigor and determination. His woodwind and brass principal chairs followed his lead, impeccably demonstrating the depth of talent residing in this orchestra. Flutist Robert Shulgold, oboist May Crosby, bassoonist Don Fisher and trumpeter Emily Lawyer were excellent, but clarinetist Tom Jones, who was heard in the Bizet work with solid results, also produced right-on accuracy in the famous opening solo clarinet in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Garabedian concluded the concert with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 using measured tempos and a lively beat that drew cheers from the audience.

BILL PETERS has reviewed the classical music scene in Southern California since 1998.


What: New Valley Symphony Orchestra

When: 2 p.m. April 10

Where: Hall of Liberty, Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles

Tickets: Admission is free

Contact: (818) 789-5466; (818) 421-5583; www.newvallysymphony.org

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