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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Arcadia Weekly / – Postcards, Pezzone and a Shooting Star The California Philharmonic Performance

– Postcards, Pezzone and a Shooting Star The California Philharmonic Performance

by Terry Miller
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Photo by Clarence Alford

By Christina Linhardt

Walking through the tunnel from the ticket booth to the concert arena was already like a gateway into another realm. The historic Santa Anita Race Track Park evokes the Golden Years of Hollywood, with ghosts of its previous famous patrons such as Lana Turner, Jane Russell, Errol Flynn and Bing Crosby floating through the slightly surreal atmosphere.
On August 22, 2015, I went to hear the California Philharmonic perform “Postcards From Abroad.” I’d never attended this venue and was struck by the large green lawn smothered with hundreds of round tables covered in white linen table cloths giving this bowl a slightly upscale feel. Many patrons brought their own atmosphere with flowers in vases, flameless candles and wine goblets.
The veteran conductor, Victor Vener, proceeded over the evening’s festivities with the panache of
a Vaudevillian MC, speaking personally to the audience and explaining the numbers before performing them. His conducting had the natural ease of one who has been doing this for a lifetime. Instead of the National Anthem, as is tradition, he invited the audience to stand and sing God Bless America with the orchestra, a gesture I appreciated, as the Irving Berlin ballad does not praise combat but rather the beauty and spirituality of the nation. The concert journeyed across various lands kicking off in Italy with Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, Op. 45, which started with a stunning brass section. During the concert, in the background children could be heard gleefully screeching and flitting about, reminiscent of native birds and critters. I took a moment to look around and notice the diverse crowd, multi-generational and multi-racial, from the lovely Caucasian family whose toddlers rushed the stage and tried to crawl through the white picket fence guard rail, to the darling 6 year old African-American girl conducting along with the Maestro (possibly prepping to become his successor). A smooth and haunting French Horn moment occurred in the Capriccio (played by Jenny Kim and Stephen Keminsky) which brought back memories of Teutonic Hunting calls. The piece closed to whoops and hollers from the crowd. Next on the program was The Colonel Bogey March, a piece I guarantee you’d recognize. Vener encouraged the audience to clap and whistle along, thus the participation section of the show (always a good tactic to keep 21st Century crowds engaged).
Travelling back to Italy, the following piece was “Il Postino” by Ennio Morricone, written for the movie “The Postman”. Bryan Pezzone sat in the orchestra playing the accordion part on a synthesizer with musicality only he can create. Another enchanting horn section, and a charming conversation between the keys and the first clarinetist, Michael Arnold, who performed a multitude of beautiful solos throughout the night. As a quick mystical interlude, the orchestra played an excerpt from the score to “The Hobbit” by Howard Shore, much to the delight of Tolkien fans. To close the second half was the highlight of the concert, virtuoso pianist Bryan Pezzone performing Gershwin’s rarely heard Second Rhapsody For Piano & Orchestra. Everyone knows In Blue, but this piece is scarcely heard, almost “unknown” as the conductor said. Pezzone is an internationally acclaimed Gershwin interpreter known for the First Rhapsody, and “master of all styles.” His playing is both clean as a machine yet incredibly emotional and human. Extreme sensitivity and precise rhythm. The second rhapsody starts out almost as if it will be like the First and then wanders more into the realm of 20th Century composers like Stravinsky. It journeys to the streets of Harlem in the 1920s only to come back to the modern
age of classical music again, suddenly traipsing into a grand ballroom out of an MGM classic film. Bryan’s hands continue to caress the keys, so supple and strong with his triumphant runs awarding
him a standing ovation and several curtain calls at the finish line. As an encore, the conductor asked the audience to yell out pieces of music. Bryan would then perform an improvisation incorporating all the pieces, flowing seamlessly together. Beatles, Mozart, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Claire de Lune” were among the shouted out selections which Bryan did use to create an exceptional never before and never again heard piece. Just as he was finishing, I saw to my right, a shooting star, fall from the sky, as if Disney Imagineers had planned it.
“That was way better than the Gershwin” I heard an audience member say.
For the second half, Maestro Vener announced they would play the theme song for a famous magic school. Potter fans called out “Hogwarts” but Vener corrected them and said “No, this is the theme song for The Hollywood Magic Castle.” That got my attention and confused me, as I am a Castle Magician Member and never knew we had a theme song. Looking at the programI saw he was just teasing them, as he played the theme from “Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone” by Williams. To continue the magic they followed with Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave”, a mystical piece inspired by the composer’s trip to Scotland and his being so entranced by the powerful waves crashing against the crevice. For those music novices out there, if you do not know the piece, please take a moment to discover it. It is well worth it.
After the journey to The Hebrides, we went down to Mexico, with Cuban flair, in Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No.2. It opened with yet another great lick on the clarinet, followed by a great lick on oboe played by Francisco Castillo (a shout out goes to the youngest player in the orchestra, 16 year old Adair Kelley, Castillo’s prodigee on second oboe). I had heard rumors backstage that the assistant principal violist, John Acevedo, was also a competition level salsa and tango dancer. He needed to get up and dance to the number, so compelling were the dance rhythms. To end the evening, back to Spain, with Rimsky-Korskov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34, featuring glorious solos by the most of the principals, especially Paul Fried on flute and concert master Armen Anassian.
After all that excitement I was exhausted and ready for the after-party, held in remains of the former carousel. A jazz combo was playing, and I did get that tango dance….

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