Marin Symphony Players Dazzle in Chamber Concert

Flutist Myung-Ju Yeo and conductor Edwin Outwater. Click for full photo.

In the second program of Marin Symphony’s new concert season, my fears that the orchestra would suffer from having no permanent conductor and no home (due to construction at the Marin Center Hall) were thoroughly allayed. I was captivated by every element, from the chamber-size ensemble of 40 featuring many of the orchestra’s first chairs to the artistry of guest conductor Edwin Outwater, and solo flutist Myung-Ju Yeo. Sound-wise, the College of Marin’s Theater Nov. 11 was an ideal setting for chamber works, beautifully intimate and immersive. And it was the début of the orchestra’s new concertmaster, Ani Bukujian.

The program began with Stravinsky’s Eight Instrumental Miniatures for 15 Players. Conducting without score, Mr. Outwater led with a sure hand. Referred to as “the Picasso of Music” because of his genius at changing styles while remaining always identifiable, Stravinsky initially composed the five-fingered pieces (“Les cinq doigts”) for children in 1921. The five notes were in sequence, reachable by small hands. Much later he orchestrated them singly and in groups, adding counterpoint and complexity. They premiered in 1962. Each is about a minute in length, and they were played with scarcely a pause between.

Stravinsky was not a fan of Bartók’s use of folk tunes in his compositions, but these miniatures summoned many of the same rhythms and sonorities and reminded me of Bartók’s pieces for children. Miniatures began with the lament-like Andantino with Alicia Telford, horn, oboist Margot Golding and bassoonist Carla Wilson. Allegro brought flute and clarinet into the mix and Allegretto incorporated the strings, particularly the cellos who marked a tuneful ostinato with the horn. Moderato evoked the cries and whispers of the composer’s Petrouchka and Lento summoned the rich harmonic veins of Rimsky-Korsakoff. With all the instruments now involved, a tango (Pesante) came as number eight, orchestrated while Stravinsky was in Mexico. In Mr. Outwater’s phrase it was a “cubist tango,” subsuming the driving tango rhythm and going for a more subtle deconstruction.

This neoclassical eight-minute whirlwind was dazzlingly played, though I would have liked a little more breathing space between each section.

Mozart’s second flute concerto in D major, K. 314, with soloist Myung-Ju Yeo, came next. A re-working of an earlier concerto for oboe, this is no imitation; rather, it is a sparkling glorious vehicle for the virtuoso flutist. Commissioned to compose three flute concerti, after one Mozart decided to revise the oboe concerto rather than compose a fresh one.

The D major concerto demands shining virtuosity, and Ms. Yeo delivered brilliantly. From the first entry of the flute the music floated on clouds and made me want to dance. There are three cadenzas in the concerto, all virtuosic and hypnotic. Ms. Yeo’s purity of tone, effortless trills and exquisite phrasing wove spell after spell. When the first cadenza ended, the audience broke into applause. At that point Mr. Outwater engagingly turned to comment that an audience in the 1700s would have likely done the same. That resplendent ornamental cadenza and the others Ms. Yeo played were written by Helmut Deutsch, a Viennese composer.

The second Adagio ma non troppo movement was meltingly beautiful, with eloquent playing from the strings and glistening solo passages. The orchestra never covered the softer-voiced flute, and the second movement cadenza was transparent as glass and smooth as satin. Ms. Yeo played radiantly as though she were telling an enchanting story. The finale was played with spirit, full of mesmerizing trills. Again, Mr. Outwater conducted without score.

Beethoven’s D Major, second Symphony, Op. 36, is less frequently performed than his other eight symphonies, but it’s a favorite for the conductor as it was the first Beethoven symphony he conducted. It’s emphatic throughout, characterized by strong tutti chords that act like wake-up calls. These are joined by lots of pretty harmonies in the strings, mysterious woodwind passages, and a hunting horn that brings “to the hounds!” to mind. The composer’s little musical jokes are frequently heard in this work.

At times I felt the music figuratively was crossing a chasm on a high wire. And then there were sweet interjections from flutes and woodwinds, and deep slashing bowing from the cellos and double basses. The second movement Larghettofeatured Ms. Golding’s lovely oboe playing, a performance of Beethoven at his most pastoral. The intensity of the music built to questions, answers and more questions. I heard in the music a dialogue between deep despair and buoyant hope.

The Scherzo suggested a series of storms, with thunder and lightning. The ensemble’s pacing was deftly controlled by Mr. Outwater, with each instrumental section clearly heard. The last movement, Allegro molto, raced, then slowed, then stopped, finally ending as emphatically as it began, with great timpani playing from Tyler Mack, the burnished bassoon of Ms. Wilson and an elegant string ensemble led by Ms. Bukujian, cellist Nancy Bien and violist Jenny Douglass.