There is hardly a more family-friendly way to cool off a summer evening than to spend the few hours after sunset at the breezy Embarcadero Marina Park South with the San Diego Symphony. This Labor Day weekend ushered in the Summer Pops concert series’ finale with 3 evenings of music from Tchaikovsky and his contemporaries under the baton of Matthew Garbutt (who celebrated his birthday on stage Saturday).
The line up contained well known favorites (Tchaikovsky’s Slavic March and 1812 Overture) as well as some rarely performed treats (Balakirev’s Overture on Three Russian Folk Songs, the 1st movement from Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, the 4th movement from Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana suite and Dances Cosaque from his opera, Mazeppa). With the nearly full moon presiding over the partly cloudy evening, the winds section (and its new principal oboist) really earned its pay in casting a convincingly Slavic aura over the marina. The concertmaster, Jeff Thayer, also proved a very smooth virtuoso through out the evening that featured many solo violin passages, though I wish he had turned up the heat a few notches during the Mozartiana variation.
The capacity Saturday night audience was also treated to impromptu additions of two excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s celebrated Swan Lake Suite, with the Dance of the Swans being guest-conducted by young Saul Garcia. Apparently one of the series’ sponsor had bought the right to conduct a number and generously donated it to allow a budding local youngster the chance to cue up a major Symphony on a real stage. The young man took his turn with aplomb and drew a decent round of applause from the appreciative crowd.
The show, of course, ended with Tchaikovsky’s timelessly blustery 1812 Overture (as in how Napoleon got his butt kicked by the rebounding Russian Empire during the winter of 1812) that finished in high-octane salvos of theatrical cannons and firework displays on the bay… along with the added brass courtesy of the US Navy Band Southwest (from nearby NAS North Island). The firework started a couple of beats early, but the cannons were right on cue and loud enough to cause many in the audience to jump right out of their seats (and some loose pants).
All in all, it was a fittingly spectacular ending to the summer pops concert season for the San Diego Symphony, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary during the 2010-11 season. Yours truly is sufficiently impressed with the quality of the performance and the decidedly community-minded attitude of the entire outfit that I’m resolved to patronize the businesses (Sycuan, Manpower, Fidelity Investment, etc) that sponsored this show whenever possible to show my appreciation for their support to a local asset like the SD Symphony. No good deed shall go unpunished!