It may have been the fireworks finale that brought enough people to the Redlands Bowl on Friday night to nearly fill the benches and lawns, but the crowd at the closing concert of this season’s Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival also got two blockbusters of symphonic music.
And that music was just as full of color and explosive excitement throughout the evening as the pyrotechnics over the Bowl’s Prosellis were at the end.
Frank Fetta, the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival’s artistic adviser, conducted the Redlands Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Pianist Rufus Choi was soloist in the Tchaikovsky concerto, and the fireworks accompanied a reprise of the ending of Beethoven’s Fifth, after the orchestra played the whole symphony.
The evening began with the piece that’s not listed on the program — “The Star-Spangled Banner” played by the Redlands Symphony and sung by the audience. That’s the one point in every concert when I wish I was a soprano, but even though I dipped down an octave in a few phrases — as I’m sure some other did, too — after “the home of the brave” died away, Fetta said the Redlands Bowl “is absolutely the best” for the national anthem of the many places where he has conducted orchestras.
Before going on to the Tchaikovsky concerto, Fetta talked about the evening’s music, “two very major works.” He said the Tchaikovsky concerto has been described as the “king of all concertos,” and just about everyone knows the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth (think da-da-da-daaa).
The two pieces are different from each other in many ways, but Fetta pointed out that their so-familiar opening rhythms are the same — and he had the orchestra play both openings to illustrate.
On a lighter note, he said Choi told him that the first time he played at the Redlands Bowl, there was a black beetle on the piano keys. I imagine it could take some extra-fancy fingerwork to play around a beetle — or maybe an improvised glissando to sweep it off the keyboard.
I don’t think there were any beetles dancing on the black keys Friday night, but Choi had more than enough fast, agile and powerful fingerwork to deal with a swarm of insect interlopers.
He also coaxed a beautiful tone out of the piano and treated the audience to some exquisite, quiet passages for piano alone.
The Tchaikovsky concerto is so very familiar that one could simply wallow in the pleasure of it, but in the midst of relaxing with an old friend, I was surprised a few times with bits I hadn’t remembered as well.
That’s one of the pleasures of classical music — even with a piece you’ve heard “a million times,” there’s often something new to hear.
And after Choi and the orchestra brought the concerto to an exciting and energetic end, there was something else new to hear — at least new to me. As an encore, Choi played “Danza de la moza donosa (“Dance of the beautiful maiden”), the second of three “Danzas Argentinas” for solo piano by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983).
It was a lovely dessert after a main course of Tchaikovsky, a quiet, simple-sounding piece of music that felt like the summer evening’s breeze wafting through the Bowl.
After intermission, it was on to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 may be the king of concertos, but Beethoven’s Fifth is the king of kings, the piece of symphonic music everyone knows.
I have no idea how many times I’ve heard Beethoven’s Fifth, in live concerts and recordings, but it’s enough times so you’d think there’d be nothing new under the stars in another performance of that symphony.
But the Redlands Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the Fifth Symphony at the Bowl was a pleasure, from the familiar da-da-da-daaa opening to slower, melodic sections, music that dances, chorale-like sections and the dramatic ending.
The orchestra’s sound was even better and clearer in the Beethoven than in the Tchaikovsky and, as in the Tchaikovsky, I had some “oh, yes, I’d forgotten that bit” moments.
It was well worth hearing Beethoven’s Fifth at the Redlands Bowl on Friday night, even if there hadn’t been fireworks at the end.
Speaking of extras such as fireworks, Redlands Bowl programs often have extra sounds added, from cricket choruses and barking dogs to light aircraft and ambulance sirens.
Sometimes those are completely at odds with the music, just one of those things you have to ignore in an outdoor concert.
But it seemed that Friday’s night’s crickets were almost matching the rhythm of the piano at one point in the Tchaikovsky concerto, and there were a couple of not-too-close sirens that nearly blended in pitch and timbre with the orchestra during the Tchaikovsky and the Beethoven.
Crickets, sirens and any other intruders were drowned out, though, when the orchestra repeated the ending of Beethoven’s Fifth to the accompaniment of fireworks bursting in bright colors from behind the Prosellis. The fireworks were choreographed to explode in rhythm with the music — and there are a lot of notes to punch with fireworks in Beethoven’s Fifth.
It was a beautiful ending to the concert and to the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival’s 91st season.