With the Annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular the San Diego Symphony Concludes its Summer Season

As the San Diego Symphony’s summer season at The Rady Shell approaches its grand finale, there are two aspects upon which orchestra patrons can count. The finale’s programming will feature the music of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and the public relations department has but one adjective to describe it: spectacular!

Steven Lin [photo courtesy of the artist]

Clearly, the most spectacular aspect of Friday’s San Diego Symphony Tchaikovsky Spectacular program was the brilliant keyboard artistry of Steven Lin, soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor. Rising to vast technical challenges of this demanding score, Lin’s most extravagant, passionate flourishes still exuded the composer’s lyrical allure, and Lin’s supple touch displayed a brilliant edge that retained an unusually warm, inviting sonority.

Although this was Lin’s debut with the San Diego Symphony, he demonstrated his musical prowess here a decade ago in an August 2013 La Jolla SummerFest concert, adroitly performing in Charles Ives’ Piano Trio, Elliot Carter’s Elegy for Cello and Piano, and Béla Bartók’s formidable “Contrasts” for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano.

Lin was superbly supported in the Tchaikovsky concerto by the orchestra under the baton of Australian conductor Christopher Dragon, who has demonstrated admirable rapport with the orchestra in his several guest appearances. He conducted the San Diego Symphony’s 2019 Tchaikovsky summer finale at The Rady Shell, and he presided over a sophisticated program of Vivaldi and Piazzolla at The Conrad in February of 2022.

Not at all afraid of fiery tempos, Dragon nevertheless coaxed scintillating yet laudably transparent textures from the orchestra, and the players responded with unusually tight ensembles and fresh conviction for a score that suffers from over programming.

Tchaikovsky wrote some three hours of music for his grand ballet The Sleeping Beauty, but the modest orchestral suite from the ballet—a project the composer seriously considered but never got around to arranging—was assembled by his colleague Aleksandr Ziloti after his death. Since the suite’s five movements only take 20 minutes, the fairy tale narrative is difficult to discern, but like any Tchaikovsky score, the sheer melodic largess and splendid orchestration compensate admirably.

Dragon chose driving, bright tempos carried out with confident assurance by the orchestra. Kudos the the violin sections for their shimmering themes accompanied by Julie Smith Phillips’ enchanting harp arpeggios, especially in the “Pas d’action” and the “Panorama.” In both the opening movement and the “Pas d’action” we were treated to captivating English Horn solos from Andrea Overturf, and the entire woodwind choir took center stage admirably in the middle movement, “Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat.”

Unlike the orchestra’s most recent Tchaikovsky Spectacular finales, the 1812 Overture was not bolstered by the assistance of a guest brass band and live canons shooting over San Diego Bay. I was content, however, with hearing the orchestra’s vibrant account of the Tchaikovsky chestnut accompanied by a modest but colorful display of fireworks launched from behind The Rady Shell.

This program was presented by the San Diego Symphony on Friday, September 1, 2023, at The Rady Shell on San Diego Bay.


  1. Nian on September 5, 2023 at 7:40 am

    It’s a wonderful performance!👏👏👏👏👏

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