Love was in the air — and in the music — at the Redlands Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s Day concert Saturday evening in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel.
The concert opened with the fun and flirtatious high jinks of “Die Fledermaus” (“The Bat”) and concluded with Prokofiev’s interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet,” the best-known lovers of literature.
Sandwiched between the bonbons of “Die Fledermaus” and the bittersweet chocolate of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic love story was Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, music to fall in love with.
Not only was the audience caressed with the beauty of Chopin’s music, but we could hear the love and enthusiasm for the pianist, Michael Malakouti, fill the chapel even before he played a note.
Malakouti is the grand prize winner in this year’s University of Redlands Concerto Competition, and his fellow students cheered him onto the stage.
His performance spread the love through the audience, and after the concerto ended, Malakouti returned to the stage more than once as people stood, applauded and shouted “bravo!”
He won the audience over with his beautiful, fluid sound, playing the subtle intricacies of Chopin with apparent ease and stringing pearls of notes together into a musical necklace.
Malakouti’s performance completed the Redlands Symphony’s pair of Chopin piano concertos this season, after Vladislav Kosminov played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in January. At first glance, you might think that’s too much Chopin for one season, but I enjoyed hearing both Chopin piano concertos about a month apart, each programmed with contrasting music.
There’s nothing not to love about Chopin, especially on Valentine’s Day.
The concert opened on a lighter note with the overture to “Die Fledermaus,” a comic operetta by Johann Strauss Jr., first performed in 1874.
One excerpt from the Redlands Symphony’s program notes shows just how light a note “Die Fledermaus” strikes, saying that in the operetta “a husband sentenced to prison stops by a party on his way to jail, finds his wife in the company of an overly attentive companion, and wackiness ensues.”
The music of the overture is not necessarily wacky, but it’s fun, and it introduces a waltz, polka and more that are played out in the course of the operetta. Think Vienna on New Year’s Eve.
Co Nguyen, the Redlands Symphony’s assistant conductor, directed the orchestra in this Valentine’s Day concert and led the orchestra in an energetic, fun performance of the “Fledermaus” overture. At times, I could nearly see Viennese revelers dancing across the stage.
The “Romeo and Juliet” Suite No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), composed in 1935, has a stormier history and tells a stormier story than the Viennese bonbon of “Die Fledermaus.” The suite is excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet music that Prokofiev arranged while problems with Soviet authorities delayed performance of the ballet on the Bolshoi stage.
And, of course, Romeo and Juliet’s love story does not end happily.
Before the concert, a friend said she was a little disappointed that it wasn’t Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but after the concert, it sounded like her disappointment had melted away.
Prokofiev’s music is not Tchaikovsky’s sweeping Romantic-era “Romeo and Juliet” of the late 1800s, but it has a drama and beauty of its own.
It’s also not “Peter and the Wolf,” which Prokofiev wrote around the same time he wrote “Romeo and Juliet,” but if you’re not familiar with Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” think of “Peter and the Wolf” with more complexity and heavier emotion but still delightful to listen to.
I walked into Memorial Chapel Saturday night feeling tired after a long, busy week. I left the chapel feeling energized and happy to be alive, and it was the Redlands Symphony’s performance of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” Suite No. 2 that gave me the biggest boost of energy.
The seven movements of the suite offer contrasting moods and musical textures. “Juliet — the Young Girl” is lively and sparkling at times, peaceful, lilting and lyrical. “Friar Lawrence” has more depth — literally and figuratively — as the tuba and other lower-pitched instruments play more prominent parts.
“Romeo and Juliet Before Parting” swells with emotion and expresses some of the tragedy to come, and in “Romeo at Juliet’s Grave,” the strings practically weep and wail Romeo’s grief.
There’s a lighter “Dance of the Girls With Lilies” between those movements and another dance earlier in the suite to lighten the mood.
Nguyen chose to end the suite with “The Montagues and the Capulets,” which, according to the Redlands Symphony’s program notes, traditionally opens the suite.
That ended the concert almost literally with a bang, rather than with the tragedy of “Romeo at Juliet’s Grave,” though the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets is obvious in the music.
The “Romeo and Juliet” Suite may not be hearts-and-flowers music, but it’s music that can make you feel good to be alive, and that’s a good thing for anyone’s valentine.