Symphony Silicon Valley Opens the Season Right in Stride

JoAnn Falletta
San Francisco Classical Voice

Symphony Silicon Valley sometimes needs the first program of the season to warm up and freshen its music-making after the summer break. That wasn’t the case at Saturday’s opening concert at San José’s California Theatre. This program of Barber, Prokofiev, and Sibelius was a splendid show from the beginning.

That could well be due to the immensely experienced and talented guest conductor, JoAnn Falletta. Not previously seen on a concert podium in San José since the days of the old San José Symphony last century, Falletta is best known locally for her decade at the helm of the Women’s Philharmonic in San Francisco, although that credit did not make it into her lengthy program book bio.

Nor did Falletta get to conduct any works by women composers on Saturday. At least she had some of the best from early 20th-century male composers to display.

An estimable performance of the Symphony No. 5 by Sibelius was particularly welcome, as its only previous performance by SSV laid an egg back in the orchestra’s early days. It shows how much difference a change in baton can make.

Under Falletta’s direction, the orchestra husbanded and expended energy dynamically, holding back occasionally before major climaxes but without much other tempo fluctuation. The wind choir had a tangy flavor, and the string passagework was crisp, especially in the violas. The string sections were layered finely, and the first violin section, 14 members strong, was particularly prominent, always coming through when it carried the melodic line.

The first appearance of the finale’s famous Swan Theme in the horns was smooth rather than commanding. Falletta kept the music flowing as it built up in power, in particular giving coherent phrasing to the sequence of separated dominant chords at the end of the symphony.
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