Classical Tahoe

Digest Notes: Saturday, July 28, 2018

French Romance

The Classical Tahoe Pavilion became the permanent home of the Classical Tahoe Orchestra in 2017, thanks to the generosity of Minden Nevada residents Laurie Harden, a glider pilot, and her husband Silvio Ricardi. It is reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House with its iconic white sails and the Denver International Airport with its white canvas tents. Even the London Symphony uses a tent manufactured by the same company. It’s a sumptuous structure, similar in shape and texture to a low hanging cloud. Since its acquisition, the intimate Classical Tahoe Pavilion has become a familiar icon to the locals, but only for a fleeting three weeks each summer.

And so on Saturday the 28th of July, Incline Village visitors were able to enjoy the 11th full orchestra performance in the brand new tent and only the 2nd of the 2018 season. Titled “French Romance,” it was both dazzling and whimsical, transporting listeners between realistic and dreamy emotional states so intensely that it felt at times that the whole pavilion would carry them off like a flying saucer soaring into space.

Thematically the repertoire evoked the pleasant laziness of a sun-drenched afternoon: quiet, rich, and dreamlike. As he raised his baton to begin the evening with Claude Debussy’s Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun, Maestro Joel Revzen simultaneously brought the sun-drenched Lake Tahoe afternoon to a close with a selection featuring not just one but two harps. Together they wove notes in and around the rest of the music like a loom weaves brightly colored threads into a beautiful tapestry. Thus did the fabric of the music keep expanding further and more broadly until the ethereal harp duet had together created a shimmering mirage of home, hearth and domestic tranquility.  

Next on the playbill, soloist Dan Gilbert played the demanding Première Rhapsodie also by Debussy, elegantly showing off the complete breadth and depth of his clarinet with its amazing range of technical complexity. A great advantage in this pavilion is its intimacy; the audience is so close to the stage that it feels the same as watching magicians perform close up magic acts. During the Rhapsodie, while the audience were riveted to their seats, Gilbert magically and cleverly amazed and stunned them—defying the delicate dexterity of the instrument with his fancy fingering, ombiture articulation, complex breathing and keen tonality.

When Cindy Rhys stepped forward, following Gilbert’s masterful clarinet demonstration, to deliver her live program notes, no one could have guessed the astute accuracy of the playbill and her words which promised that the next piece would “bring the heat.” So stunned was the audience it seemed doubtful that anyone was prepared for the sizzling performance of Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 2 that ensued.  

First came the Marche des Contrebandiers where through closed eyes, one might have seen the smugglers marching stealthily through the Pyrenees mountains. The familiar Habanera followed, its seductively teasing strains musically depicting fickle gypsy love. Then as Nocturne began, instead of its usual aria in a fully staged opera, Concertmaster Laura Hamilton stood to perform her own seductive violin solo.  Notes flew out of her violin, as her bow cavorted playfully along the strings, all indicative of the fun but fruitless nature of fantasy.

The other musicians in the string section adroitly provided a perfect backdrop to Ms. Hamilton’s performance. Rather than moving their bows across the strings in smooth legato, the score had the violins using their fingers in clipped pizzicato, plucking the strings precisely and deliberately, perhaps to allow the musicians to become as actors and act out musically the very pluck of Carmen’s character. The action reached its height, however, in the next movement Danse Boheme when the sound of a tambourine’s jingling pierced the entire space. The whole orchestra cascaded into swirled yet controlled chaos whereby torrential sounds echoed through the pavilion in the crazy cacophony reminiscent of a carnival funhouse. At its conclusion, the audience—mesmerized by the acutely dramatic performance—burst into awakened applause as the throng surged forward for intermission.

The second part of “French Romance” unfolded with Cindy Rhys  explaining the Polish-born Frédéric Chopin’s self-imposed exile to Paris, the great success he had during his short life, and a chance encounter in Italy several years ago between two other “artistic souls”. That meeting then led to a continued musical collaboration between Maestro Revzen and the Cuban-born, Spanish pianist which culminated in Leonel Morales’ appearance this night.

Mr. Morales approached the Steinway piano now center stage with a nobility befitting his dignified navy blazer with a prince collar. From the moment he laid his fingers on the keyboard, they raced across the keys to elegantly produce Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Opus 11, in E minor. The performance is best described as delicate yet intricate. Each movement rolled merrily along in such rapid succession—Allegro Maestoso, Larghetto and finally Rondo: Vivace—that they instantly  teleported the listeners’ minds into a Parisian square of the distant past where they imagined Chopin spending many pleasant days just watching and enjoying the passersby.

As if refusing to be outshined by the wild abandonment of the first act’s Danse Boheme, Mr. Morales’ performed an encore with such authority, such brute force, and such flair that the image of Dr. Frankenstein came to mind as Mr. Morales gave life into his creation for the musical world; and then he whirlwind came to quick conclusion.

Quite unexpectedly, for a second encore, Mr. Morales addressed the audience and played yet another piece, this one Cuban; and the dazzled audience was treated to a second incredible display tickling the ivories.  The concert ended on a bittersweet note, ”Adios Utopia”,  for there will never be another concert quite like the one last Saturday night in the Classical Tahoe Pavilion.

Mr. Morales and Maestro Revzen were bombarded with “Bravos!” from adoring fans after the concert. Several children even asked for their autographs on collectible musician trading cards newly minted this seventh season. Artist and conductor both stayed to chat with well wishers until the last one had drifted off into the evening before Mr. Morales could finally return to his Tahoe host’s home for a cold cerveza, his post-performance tradition.The Pavilion was dark for only so long as Sunday morning boasted a 11 a.m. family concert intended to gently introduce future concert going patrons to the delights of classical music, All About Rhythm!