Unfamiliar, but not unwelcome, the music performed by the Redlands Symphony Orchestra at its final season concert spewed American ingenuity, brashness, and sense of humor, and affirmed the orchestra’s status as a premiere ensemble in Southern California.
The orchestra and conductor Jon Robertson threw down a musical gauntlet at the audiences — at Memorial Chapel in Redlands and at the Bob Burton Performing Arts Center in Fallbrook, where I attended — challenging them to savor the imagination of music made in the USA. Under his baton and with his orchestra, we were, indeed, able to savor the very tricky music, especially Michael Daugherty’s “MotorCity Triptych,” a monumental work which kept most of the musicians busy most of the time, including six percussionists.
Featuring myriad musical devices — violinists strumming their instruments like a blues guitar, brass players standing for their solos, a car siren — the complicated and expressive work clearly depicted the complex elements of an American industrial city, never seeming to be atonal for the sake of atonality. It employed a solitary harp to evoke the irony of serenity amidst cacophony of raging brass and swirling strings. The percussion line absolutely fueled — high-octane variety — the second movement wild ride, while harp, oboe and solo trombone delivered the sonorous sense of strong weariness in the third movement, “Rosa Parks Boulevard.”
None of the essence of this work would be possible without fearless and virtuosic soloists, of which the Redlands Symphony Orchestra has a full stable. David Scott, impeccable on trumpet, Andrew Glendening on trombone, Carolyn Beck on bassoon, and Francisco Castillo on oboe alternately sparked the highway chase, sang the sad songs of the Civil Rights movement, and awoke a sleepy city on Monday morning.
Robertson, with the mastery of a wild animal tamer handling a pride of lions, guided the orchestra through a tricky maze of meter changes, rhythmic challenges, and mood shifts. After that work, the orchestra may need a whole new transmission.
Sandwiched in the middle of the program, “The River Suite Ballet” by Duke Ellington celebrated the purely American invention, jazz. Principal flute Sara Andon elevated this one to easy enjoyment with fine pauses, lovely shape of lines, taking her time to evoke the moods in this pleasant but unremarkable work. Robertson, completely unaffected in his approach, elicited a relaxed swing in the third movement with brass tight and loose at the same time.