Santa Monica Symphony Inspires At Romantic Era Concert

Friday, 15 Mar 2013, 9:21:00 AM

Special To The Mirror

The Santa Monica Symphony performed Saturday featuring three romantic era greats by Berlioz, Rachmaninov, and Brahms.
Photo by D’Lynn Waldron
The Santa Monica Symphony performed Saturday featuring three romantic era greats by Berlioz, Rachmaninov, and Brahms.

By Sandy Wells

My daughter, who is studying music education and

performance in college, was in town for her week long spring break. I decided

it would be a great ending for her visit to go hear the Santa Monica Symphony

at her alma mater, Santa Monica High School on Saturday night (Santa Monica

High School is also my alma mater, although I was in Madrigals, not


I love music and had already attended all of the Santa

Monica Symphony’s (SMS) concerts this season, with Guido Lamell as its new

music director and conductor.

It has been marvelous to see, in these few short months

since the orchestra was reinstated, how quickly it has developed into an

ensemble of spirit, power and musical flair.

Barnum Hall was full of local concert goers who came to

celebrate spring by enjoying the ambitious program presented by the SMS


First on the program was the Roman Carnival Overture, by

Hector Berlioz, one of the most brilliant and popular of orchestral


On Lamell’s downbeat, the orchestra flew out of the gate

with such power and zeal that the effect was stunning. This was soon followed

by the luscious English Horn solo, performed wonderfully by Phil Popham.

From here the music rose in excitement through to the end

– cymbals crashing and brass heralding in true symphonic spectacle to the

finish line. I could tell from the smiles on musicians’ faces that the

orchestra was having a great time.

The next piece was the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3,

which reminded me of the movie “Shine,” and how the piece had haunted pianist

David Helfgott his whole career. 

Lamell had announced from the stage that he felt very

fortunate to have found Minh Nguyen to perform this piece with the


Minh is a freshman at UCLA, majoring in piano

performance, and with this piece under his belt, he is truly a major player. 

The concerto is known for being one of the most

technically difficult, but Minh played with great virtuosity, tackling the

octaves and speedy runs with plenty of dexterity, control and stamina. I believe that every key on that great

Fazioli piano was utilized, (often at incredible speed) and with true passion

and poise. 

Minh was very modest at the end, more comfortable turning

to the conductor and thanking him for the performance than facing the audience

who gave him an immediate and unanimous standing ovation and lots of


Lamell did a wonderful job in keeping the orchestra

together with the soloist in what is famous for being one of the most difficult

accompaniments. He also had mentioned that Nguyen could perhaps have given Van

Cliburn a run for his money in his award winning 1958 performance in Moscow.

After intermission, SMS performed the beautiful Symphony

No. 2 in D Major by Johannes Brahms. 

Lamell mentioned that he asked his orchestra for any

ideas of pieces they would like to perform or what composers they would like to


It was a resounding “Brahms,” and this was the piece they


All movements were performed with grace and exuberance,

and the variety and depth of expression were wonderful. The wind section was especially strong.

The orchestra’s principal cellist was not able to be in

attendance, so Daniel Rothmuller, recently retired LA Phil Associate Principal

cellist, kindly filled in, as well as principal bassist, Dennis Trembly, and

they added to the full confident sound of the SMS orchestra.  

I must say, having seen all three of their recent

performances, they are playing with a confidence and cohesiveness that makes

you forget this is mostly a new orchestra.

Everyone I spoke to at the end of the evening was blown

away by the solo piano performance and by the concert overall.

Many expressed that, though the orchestra offers its

programs for free, an admission price would have been well worth it. 

I was happy to notice when the program ended that many

people headed straight for the donations boxes and made contributions.

I was fortunate enough to run into Minh and asked him

politely to sign my program. 

He was humbled and of course, signed with pleasure.

Heads up, he will be performing this concerto on May 16,

2013 at Schoenberg Hall, UCLA.

All in all, a terrific Westside musical experience.

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