Strings get the spotlight in Symphony concert

Oliver Herbert
Santa Cruz Sentinel

Hot on the heels of the wonderful concert in February featuring pianist Yuja Wang, possibly the highest profile classical music soloist ever to be heard in Santa Cruz, last Saturday’s Santa Cruz Symphony concert showcased the string section of the orchestra with just a couple of additional instruments. The first half of the program featured two very different works using the wide variety of timbres each instrument of the string family can achieve in the hands of excellent performers.

The exquisite pianissimo opening measures of the concert heralded Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” a work written in 1977. The piece, originally composed for a combination of string quintet and woodwind quintet, has been rearranged by the composer for no less than 16 different instrumentations. Here was the version for strings and bass drum in which the strings play a series of triads, quiet at first, then becoming louder before gently vanishing into the silence. Pärt wrote of this idea, “I build with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.” Tintinnabulation comes from the idea of the complex overtones that ringing bells create. The rich string sound, punctuated by simple beats on the bass drum, was quite magical and the silence at the conclusion of the performance indicated that the audience had truly understood Pärt’s ideology.

In a partnership with the Irving S. Klein International String Competition, the Symphony invited 19-year-old cellist Oliver Herbert to join them as soloist in Haydn’s Second Cello Concerto. As a highly experienced prize-winning artist, Herbert brings a wonderful youthful exuberance to this work coupled with a highly sophisticated musical expression and outstanding technique in this very challenging concerto. From his opening notes it was immediately apparent that Herbert has a very vocal approach to his playing and regardless of the technical demands he makes his cello sing. The elegant proportions that Haydn achieves in this work has caused it to be regarded as one of the first truly classical pieces. The piece requires a fiery virtuosity especially in the upper range of the instrument which Herbert played with passion and finesse, and the audience held onto every note in the extended cadenza in the first movement. Two oboes and two horns add color to the orchestral palette and the horn playing was particularly lyrical. A jolly finale ended the work, fully capturing the charm and wit of Haydn at his best.
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