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Classically Trained: Gluzman provides spellbinding performance

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Vadim Gluzman kept the audience's attention with all the zeal of someone about to divulge the secrets of the universe.

Our sensibilities were rapt by his virtuosity, our eyes transfixed by his technique.

It really was that stunning. You just couldn't stray your mind away from his violin, that 1690 Stradivarius, that varnished piece of wood of legendary Italian origin that makes listeners swoon if in the right hands.

The Israeli violinist's Feb. 23 solo appearance alongside the Pacific Symphony for Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major was the classic closer of a concert that premiered new works. It was also its high point.

The first half was nearly all Michael Daugherty compositions, an American composer whose work I've admired for years. The concert led by Carl St.Clair in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall was the world premiere of "The Gospel According to Sister Aimee" and the American premiere of "Radio City (2011) for Orchestra: Symphonic Fantasy on Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra."

The Pacific Symphony was a co-commissioner on both works. Daugherty was also present on that Thursday to hear the Costa Mesa-based orchestra play his music.

"Sister Aimee" is written for brass, solo organ and percussion. Its four movements musically describe mass-media religious celebrity Aimee Semple McPherson, specifically her "rise, fall and redemption," Daugherty says. Paul Jacobs was the organist for the premiere and did a masterful job.

I liked "Sister Aimee," but more on an intellectual basis than an emotional one. At times it felt was like the exciting soundtrack to a silent film (maybe something from McPherson's day). I liked trying to imagine in my head the story it describes, like when McPherson was apparently lost at sea but then mysteriously reappeared in a Mexican village.

"Radio City" was the better of the two. It was trademark Daugherty: energetic, exciting and with great orchestration — music more accessible to the standard listener for those reasons and more. Parts of it reminded me of that Hollywood sound of yore, when the vibrato strings of music from the likes of Miklós Rósza and Max Steiner toyed with our moviegoer emotions.

I felt the orchestra was really alive and was inspired by "Radio City." Of note was Pacific Symphony timpanist Todd Miller, whose skills shone remarkably well in what seemed to be a demanding piece for timpani.

The orchestra also gave a wonderful performance of Barber's "Adagio for Strings" in memory of arts supporter Dr. Edward Shanbrom, who recently died at age 87.

In addition, Gluzman played "Viva," an exciting snippet of a violin solo that he said Daugherty recently wrote for him. Its name, derived from the Spanish verb "to live," was indicative of its lively flavor.

With the conclusion of "Viva," the evening became marked with three American and international premieres: one long, one shorter and one shortest. All by the same composer.

That has to have been a recent record around these parts.

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This Saturday, the Pacific Symphony's Family Musical Mornings series is back with "Hansel and Gretel."

The 10 and 11:30 a.m. concerts in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall are each 45-minute, kid-friendly presentations of the Engelbert Humperdinck fairytale opera that tells the timeless story of wandering siblings, an enchanted forest and a hungry witch.

Led by Pacific Symphony assistant conductor Maxim Eshkenazy, the concerts are part of the symphony's new "opera-vocal" initiative. They'll have original narration and dialogue to show the young viewers (and their parents) the power of the human voice — a voice without the aid of electronics a la Justin Bieber. The shows will also have costumes, props and scenery that's projected on the hall's big screen.

Tickets are $19 or $36 and include the Musical Carnival at 9 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. in front of the concert hall.

At 4 p.m. Sunday the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO), the Irvine-based education ensemble under the auspices of the Pacific Symphony, will be presenting the culmination of an education initiative titled "Dvořák and America." Tickets are $18 for general seating and are available at http://www.PacificSymphony.org or by calling (714) 755-5799.

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has been helping the PSYO and Irvine Unified School District music students explore Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, otherwise known as the "New World Symphony." Specifically, they've been studying how Dvořák, who was Czech, became an Americanized composer and how, consequently, Americanization changed his style from that of his European colleagues.

"Dvořák and America," developed by the Pacific Symphony's artistic advisor, Joseph Horowitz, also focuses on "issues of race and national identity catalyzed by urbanization and immigration a century ago — issues which remain crucial to the American experience today," according to a symphony press release.

Sunday's concert in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall will begin with a multifaceted presentation that takes cues from the Pacific Symphony's "Music Unwound" exploratory series. The presentation will then be followed by the PSYO, led by Eshkenazy, performing the "New World Symphony" and a post-concert conversation.

"It's an honor to be one of the few orchestras to receive funding from the NEH," Carl St.Clair, the Pacific Symphony's longtime music director and leader of "Dvořák in America," said in a prepared statement. "To our knowledge this is a nationally unprecedented initiative, combining a multimedia thematic youth orchestra concert with an educational exercise not only for the audience and for area schools, but for the youth orchestra musicians themselves."

*

The Orange County Women's Chorus is heading the Silver State this weekend.

About 30 singers from the Newport Beach-based ensemble will be singing three pieces at the American Choral Directors' Assn. western division conference in Reno, Nev. They include a Bulgarian folk song and R. Murray Schafer's avant-garde "Snowforms," the latter of which I had the pleasure of hearing the remarkable group rehearse awhile back.

It is the chorus' second time at the conference, the first being in 2004. The chorus' director, Eliza Rubenstein, who also teaches at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, says being in Reno is an honor because only 14 choruses from the western states will be there.

Indeed, the pressure is on. They'll be playing a concert for an audience of 800 choral directors, Rubenstein says.

"It's unnerving to perform for such a knowledgeable audience, but it's exhilarating, too!" she said in an email. "Opportunities like this inspire and challenge us as an ensemble — and it's always fun to hit the road with this witty, wonderful group of women."

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

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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