Two weeks before Halloween, the Redlands Symphony Orchestra opened its 2015-16 season with a treat of a concert.
The Saturday evening concert in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel treated the audience to an enthralling performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 followed by a soul-satisfying performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.
The only tricks of the evening were the feats of technical and musical skill coming from the orchestra and cello soloist Doniyor Zuparov, the lingering heat of the day in Memorial Chapel and a microphone failure partway through conductor Jon Robertson’s pre-concert talk.
Before the microphone pulled its pre-Halloween prank, Robertson predicted that the Shostakovich concerto would be a blessing. I’d say the orchestra, soloist and conductor fulfilled that promise — but more about that later.
This Redlands Symphony season promises to be an interesting one, because it is conductor and music director Jon Robertson’s farewell season after 33 years with the orchestra and because the three candidates to succeed Robertson will each conduct one of the season’s six concerts.
The first of those candidates is Ransom Wilson, who will lead the orchestra’s Nov. 14 concert featuring Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite. That’s another treat to look forward to.
But there were musical fireworks and blessings enough in Saturday’s concert to carry me through Halloween and beyond.
The Shostakovich Cello Concerto was the less familiar of the two pieces on the program, but it was my favorite.
In his pre-concert remarks, Robertson said the concerto calls for pyrotechnical skills from the soloist and said Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Shostakovich wrote the concerto in 1959, learned it and played it from memory in four days.
“I can’t even listen to it in four days,” Robertson joked about the complexity of the piece.
James Keays, in his program notes, wrote that the concerto “combines powerful musical ideas with extraordinary virtuoso writing for the solo instrument.”
The virtuoso playing was evident in Zuparov’s performance. He handled obviously tricky technique with ease, but even more powerful was the mesmerizing music he made of the concerto.
The music ranges from meditative to boisterous, to use Keays’ description, and every musical mood was a treat to listen to. Perhaps the most powerfully dramatic passages were the softest ones.
The hush in Memorial Chapel during those ethereal melodies was electric.
And the rush of applause after the concerto brought Zuparov back on stage for an encore, from Spanish composer Gaspar Cassado’s Suite for Cello.
Zuparov, who entered the State Conservatory of Uzbekistan in 2006, is now pursuing a master’s degree at the Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Fla.
He has been principal cellist of the symphonic and chamber orchestras of the conservatory and won the Lynn Concerto Competition in 2011.
Judging from his performance with the Redlands Symphony, he is a cellist worth following.
While the Shostakovich concerto was my favorite piece in Saturday’s concert, there was nothing not to like about the orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.
Beethoven’s Eighth, though not performed as often as some of his other symphonies, is still a familiar staple of symphonic literature.
In his program notes, Keays wrote that while Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies have come to be considered lighter than the odd-numbered ones, the Eighth “casts doubt on this belief ... for while it may be short, spirited and in a major key, it is one of Beethoven’s most mature and inspired masterpieces.”
Mature and inspired, yes — and the music dances, roars and almost makes you laugh at times.
And, after balancing its sound with a soloist in the first half of the concert, the orchestra showed all its musical colors in Beethoven’s Eighth.
“You can’t lose with Beethoven,” someone in the audience said afterward.
Indeed not — the concert was quite a treat.