Music Director Rafael Payare opened the San Diego Symphony’s summer season Friday with a heady pair of major orchestral works inspired by visual art. That he included Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in its customary, voluptuous Ravel arrangement is hardly surprising, since Mussorgsky’s homage to the art of Viktor Hartmann is the repertory’s most obvious example of the connection between music and painting.But Reinaldo Moya’s 2021 Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion provided fresh contrast to the familiar Mussorgsky opus. Inspired by the art of the late Venezuelan painter Carlos Cruz-Diez, Moya wrote this concerto for the Bangor Symphony and pianist Joyce Yang. Wisely, Payare landed Yang to bring this new work, its west coast premiere, to The Rady Shell’s receptive audience.
Last October at The Rady Shell, Payare opened the orchestra’s Jacobs Masterwork Series with another Moya composition, Siempre lunes, siempre marzo, a dazzling, brilliantly orchestrated tone poem. I have to confess that I was more enthusiastic about Siempre lunes, siempre marzo than I was about Moya’s new piano concerto, although the concerto can boast an equally scintillating orchestration with Siempre lunes, siempre marzo.
My primary reservation about Moya’s concerto is its consistently understated role for the piano. In a contemporary piano concerto, I certainly do not expect to encounter Rachmaninoff’s fevered, arched melodies nor do I wish for for Francis Poulenc’s gaudy organ overstatement in his similarly structured Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings. But in Moya’s piano concerto, some of the time I could hardly find Yang’s polished traceries buried in Moya’s busy textures, and I was as engaged by the bold, inventive solos for marimba and vibraphone in the fourth movement as much as any of the modest piano solo forays in the third and final movement. Yang’s finesse and gorgeous sonority, however, greatly enriched the experience of hearing this concerto.
Moya’s five-movement structure—a salute to Bartók perhaps—suits his intricate minimalist idiom, although I found myself always waiting for that other shoe to drop. His fourth movement, “Environnement Chromointerférent,” struck me as the emotional climax of the concerto, with the fifth movement, “Additive Color,” sounding more like a reflective coda. With each concerto movement, large depictions of Cruz-Diez’s art were flashed on the jumbo screens of The Rady Shell, a thoughtful assist inasmuch as Cruz-Diez is far less known here than in this native Venezuela.
When Payare became Music Director Designate in January of 2019, he conducted Pictures at an Exhibition with the orchestra, and his zeal for this showpiece has not decreased. The confident brass choirs and Payare’s broad, stately tempo for the recurring “Promenade” never lost their sense of urgency, and each portrait unfolded with fresh, unforced animation. Among the many winning solos, let me salute Todd Rewoldt’s lyrical incantations in “The Old Castle,” Principal Trombone Kyle Covington’s nuanced euphonium solo in “Bydlo,” and Ryan Simmons’ mystical bassoon themes in “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs.”
The nobility of Mussorgsky’s finale “The Great Gate of Kiev” and well as the performance of Valentyn Silvestrov’s short “Prayer for the Ukraine” represented the orchestra’s salute to the nation currently fighting for its life in central Europe.
Payare opened the program with Hector Berlioz’s “Le Corsair” Overture, giving it his usual exuberant prodding. It was difficult to hear much of the performance, however, because just as Payare started, a very loud tug in the adjacent bay was putting into position the barge that would discharge the fireworks at the end of the concert. Of course, this function could have been accomplished 10 minutes before the concert began without the slightest sonic distraction. Timing!
This concert was presented by the San Diego Symphony on Friday, June 24, 2022, at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park.