Boise Philharmonic opens its season with a stunning program of Ravel and Barber

It bodes well for season when you start off with a standing ovation after the opening piece. The Boise Philharmonic did just that at the Morrison Center Saturday night with its program “Bolero” featuring works of Maurice Ravel and Samuel Barber.

In some ways music director Robert Franz’s programming was the root of the brilliance of the night. Ravel and Barber, two composers working in the early 20th century, created a bridge between classical, jazz and our best orchestrated themes for film and TV, seemed to echo each other in the first half.

Pianist Spencer Myer opened the program with the “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand,” written by Ravel for Paul Wittgenstein, an Austrian pianist who lost his right arm in WWI. Myer’s performance of it was dynamic, layered and powerful. At one point, Myer needed to brace himself against the piano with his right arm to counterbalance the work of his left. Rather than a distraction, it was a testament to the physical demands required to play it.  When it was written in 1929, it was view as an artistic triumph over adversity. Myer’s performance was riveting and layered and drew the audience to their feet.

The Barber Symphony No. 1 in One Movement followed — a sort of condensed symphony experience with four movements packed into one 21-minute package.  The Franz and the orchestra took the dynamic energy of the opening concerto and accelerated with the Barber, making it feel even more contemporary and fresh.

The second half was all Ravel. Myer returned with a knockout performance of Ravel’s joyful Piano Concerto in G major, one of the 20th century masterpieces for the instrument.

Franz and the orchestra took on Ravel’s Spanish-influenced “Bolero,” a piece that has become clichéd over the years — especially since the film “10.” Franz even mentioned the film’s bombshell star Bo Derek at the top of the program. However, the phil’s performance of it left that reference in the dust. I was not a fan of the piece devoid of its ballet until this performance. (It was originally created for dancer Ida Rubenstein) Percussionist John Baldwin laid down a flawless rhythmic current on a snare drum that drove the piece as each new instrument picked up the theme.

The performance was electric, showcasing the orchestra’s excellent woodwind, reed and brass, string and percussion players as the piece headed to its dynamic crescendo. The soloists were excellent but the real star with the orchestra as a whole. They were connected and responsive in a new way. I suspect this is the benefit of having more rehearsal and on-stage time with the addition of the summer Picnic at the Pops series.

If this concert is any indication, this is going to be a great season with the philharmonic that is sure to bring memorable performances.



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