The Redlands Symphony Orchestra served up several helpings of graceful, elegant music Friday night at the Redlands Bowl — with a sprinkling of humor and a large scoop of virtuosity.
The most obvious virtuosity came from violinist Roberto Cani, who soloed on Mendelssohn’s Violin Concert — more about that later.
But the Redlands Symphony showed off its own virtuosic chops in Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, music written during World War I that, in the world of classical music, still has a contemporary feel. That’s classical as opposed to popular, not classical in the narrower sense of the 18th century music of Mozart and Haydn.
Classical music does seem to have a longer timeline than popular tunes do. If you put Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony next to “K-K-K-Katy” or “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” songs that date from about the same era, Prokofiev sounds much more modern.
Frank Fetta, who conducted the Redlands Symphony, told a story that placed Prokofiev in an era that was starting to be modern, but was still far removed from today’s electronic age. Fetta said Prokofiev had been one of the first people in the Soviet Union to have a car and that when he hit someone with that car (the person did not die), he was outraged that someone was in his way.
However, there was no outrage in Friday night’s concert. Fetta, who is the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival’s artistic adviser, said the evening’s music all had “tremendous grace and tremendous elegance,” rather than a big, grandiose sound.
And it did, beginning with the overture to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” a short, familiar piece of music that started the concert on a lively note.
The first piece on an orchestral concert at the Redlands Bowl is often the one in which either the sound system is getting fine-tuned or my ears are adjusting to the sound of the orchestra amplified in an outdoor setting. By the time the overture was over, my ears were tuned, but in the meantime, I heard some passages in the woodwinds that I don’t remember as being that prominent. They were quite pleasant, so I’m certainly not complaining.
Next was Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony — but wait. Fetta explained that Prokofiev used an expanded version of the symphony’s third movement, a gavotte, in the music he wrote for the ballet “Romeo and Juliet.” And before the orchestra played the symphony with the original, shorter gavotte, they played the extended one.
You can hear elegance in the delicate music and practically see dancers.
The elegance was still there in the whole symphony, along with some rhythms giving an almost off-balance feeling and a beautiful, clear melody in the second movement.
The fourth and final movement was so fast and lively, it had an almost carnival-like feel at times, and it was ideal for a summer evening at the Bowl.
After intermission came elegance and virtuosity of a different flavor, in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
Cani, an Italian-born violinist who won the Paganini International Competition in Genoa when he was 21, was the soloist, and from his first note, he carried a sweet, powerful tone through the concerto.
He also made easy work of lots of difficult notes, making beautiful, exciting music of them.
For those familiar with classical music standards, the Mendelssohn concerto is an old friend. For those who may not have met the concerto before, Friday night’s performance was an easy, beautifully melodic introduction to it. What’s not to love in a Mendelssohn melody?
And the combination of Mendelssohn and Cani’s playing brought loud cheers from the audience as the music ended, with many people on their feet.
The audience cheered Cani back on stage for two encores, first a delightful performance of Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesfreud” with the orchestra. That nearly brought a tear to my eye, partly because of the performance, but also because my father, who was an amateur violinist, enjoyed playing Kreisler. I can remember hearing him play “Liebesfreud” (“Love’s Joy”) in the living room at home when I was a child, with my mother accompanying him on the piano.
Cani’s “Liebesfreud” with the Redlands Symphony, of course, was miles beyond my parents’ living room rendition, but the memory does add something to the music.
Cani’s final encore was Paganini’s Caprice No. 24, a brilliant, exciting piece that shows off just about everything the violin can do — and Cani did.
It was the perfect burst of musical fireworks to end the evening.