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Young pianist Anthony Ribaya solos with Redlands Symphony Orchestra

01/21/13 • by Betty Tyler • The Redlands Daily Facts

Saturday's Redlands Symphony Orchestra concert was billed as "The Tragic Beauty of Brahms and Tchaikovsky."

That's an appropriate enough description of a concert that began with Brahms' "Tragic Overture" and ended with Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony, but those two pieces do not drown the listener in despair.

Instead, the music carries one on an emotional journey that is dark at times but also satisfying.

It was the beauty of the music that carried the evening at the Redlands Symphony's concert in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel, directed by Co Nguyen, the orchestra's assistant conductor.

And the darker moods of Brahms and Tchaikovsky were relieved with 18-year old Anthony Ribaya's performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2.

Not only was Ribaya's performance a triumph rather than a tragedy, but the Shostakovich concerto is lively, lighthearted and full of fun.

Ribaya, a student of Professor Louanne Long and former student of James Ramos, triumphed as winner of the University of Redlands' concerto competition, and he is the first freshman ever to win in the competition's 36-year history.

The grand prize is the opportunity to perform with the Redlands Symphony.

It's likely the Brahms "Tragic Overture" and Tchaikovsky "Pathetique" Symphony were chosen for Saturday's concert before the concerto competition, to fit around whatever concerto the winner would have prepared.

I can imagine a number of concertos would have worked between Brahms and Tchaikovsky and some that might have tipped the concert's scale too far on heavy, tragic side.

The Shostakovich concerto, written in 1957 for the composer's 19-year-old son, is light enough to be a good contrast to the Brahms and Tchaikovsky and to act as a palate cleanser between them.

I couldn't help smiling during the first movement, with its lively, quirky melodies running around in the orchestra and piano.

Ribaya wrapped his hands around the rapidly moving notes in the first movement and in the third, which dances along in a fast 7/8 meter that would knock most two-legged humans off balance.

There were moments in the first movement when the orchestra nearly covered up the piano, but not in the second movement.

In contrast to the first and third movements, the second is quieter and lyrical, with a sound at the beginning that made me think of a clear, slowly flowing stream or the air on a summer night. (For some reason, my mind turned music into pictures Saturday night, not something that always happens.)

The piano comes in partway through the movement with a melody so beautiful that it would have been worth coming out on a Saturday night to hear only that.

Ribaya played it with a clear, singing tone that could have melted the ice on Redlands' streets the previous weekend.

It will be interesting to see what he's playing down the road in his senior year.

Back to the beginning of the concert - the Brahms "Tragic Overture" was likely chosen partly because it is short enough to pair with a concerto on the first half of a program.

It is tragic in that it's music with a more serious mood, and it's a satisfying taste of Brahms.

You could think of Brahms' music as the solid meat and potatoes of Beethoven with a 19th-century Romantic-era gravy - not sugary, but with an added layer of texture and flavor.

The Redlands Symphony served up a filling first course of Brahms.

After intermission, the orchestra played Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony, which, considering Tchaikovsky's life story, expresses more real tragedy than the Brahms overture does. There is much more to Tchaikovsky than the "Dance of the Flowers" from "The Nutcracker."

Tchaikovsky was "an extraordinarily melancholy man whose fits of depression led to several attempts at suicide," according to James Keays' program notes.

"It is generally accepted that the root of Tchaikovsky's personal problems was a deep-seated guilt about his homosexuality, a situation which fed his inability to share his innermost feelings," Keays wrote.

Some of Tchaikovsky's innermost feelings are expressed in the familiar "Pathetique" Symphony, which begins so quietly that a very soft rustling of paper in the row behind me seemed loud. Throughout the symphony's four movements, that quietness grows into sound and fury, soaring melodies and a dance.

There is beauty and energy in the music as well as pain and anguish.

If I were able to paint pictures illustrating the "Pathetique," I might include ocean waves, volcanoes, sunrises, flower filled meadows, people in love and people crying out in pain in those pictures.

At the end, the music fades out in quiet despair, and nine days after the symphony's premiere in the autumn of 1893, Tchaikovsky died at the age of 53.

Nearly 120 years later, the Redlands Symphony Orchestra showed that Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony still has the power to move people.

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