By Nathan Riley
After yet another phenomenal concert Saturday evening [March 18, 2023], Symphony Tacoma, led by guest conductor Antoine T. Clark, left the audience on their feet wanting more. Youthful Brilliance, the title of the evening’s program, featured works from early in each composer’s career, the first being rising star Viet Cuong. A former student of both Jennifer Higdon and David Ludwig (Symphony Tacoma’s Composer in Residence for 2019-2021), Cuong’s brilliance as a composer was on full display with Bullish. Reminiscent of Piazzolla’s Libertango, this mixed-meter, tango-inspired dance engaged the already excited audience, and with Clark’s bouncing and energetic conducting, brought a vibrance to the Pantages Theater that resonated throughout the rest of the evening.
Second for the night was Elfrida Andrée’s Andante quasi recitativo, a melancholic work for string orchestra. Andrée’s Andante was just as full of emotion and moving as Barber’s Adagio for Strings, in half the time. Maestro Clark’s direction brought out the best of the Symphony Tacoma strings, and the juxtaposition of Bullish and the Andante showed the impressive range of his repertoire and skill as a conductor. It was a pleasure to watch Clark conduct and see him bring the most out of the smallest details in each piece.
Following a brief interlude when the stage crew entertained us as they raised the piano out of the pit, Maestro Clark was joined on stage by pianist Janice Carissa for César Franck’s Symphonic Variations. The exception to the youthful theme of the night, Franck composed his reimagining of the theme-and-variation form in the final years of a long career. One of the best examples of cyclic form in the Romantic Era, Franck takes the three-and-a-half bar primary theme introduced by the piano and develops it across three movements, masterfully passing it between the piano and orchestra and truly integrating the piano into the texture of the ensemble, and not as a solo-tutti concerto. In those first three measures, soloist Janice Carissa enraptured the audience and held them captive in her performance until the end. Even in the gentlest passages, Carissa conveyed power and precision worthy of the greatest concert halls.
Returning from intermission, Janice Carissa continued to stun the audience with Avner Dorman’s Concerto in A. A Baroque-inspired work for string orchestra and piano, the melody of the first movement was based on a major scale run which brought to mind many Bach and Mozart concerti, and even a hint of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. Breaking from the greats by the fourth measure, Dorman had introduced pop and jazz chord motion and the syncopation of the second theme would have left Mozart dour-faced, but brought a smile to mine and the audience. Carissa’s graceful execution of the cadenza was breathtaking and earned a full applause after just the first movement. She and Maestro Clark received a proper standing ovation after the final movement.
After returning the piano to the pit, Symphony Tacoma’s winds and brass rejoined us on stage for the final piece of the evening: Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, his Classical Symphony. Prokofiev’s Classical was playful and energetic, the perfect capstone to the evening. The Symphony flutes and oboes were a tour de force with the fourth movement’s rapid eighth note arpeggios that have become the Classical’s hallmark, and Clark’s characteristic bounce brought the winds to the fore, sending the audience to their feet for the third and final time of the evening.
Symphony Tacoma’s next concert, Dancing Mallets & Pulsing Percussion, is April 22, 2023 at the Pantages Theater featuring the arx duo in the world premiere of Nick DiBerardino’s Double Percussion Concerto.