Tuesday, February 19, 2008 — The Sacremento Bee
Review of Sacremento Philharmonic
By Edward Ortiz —
Story appeared in SCENE section, Page E1


Sacramento Philharmonic in fine form, fine venue


It's been said that nothing keeps an orchestra sharper than touring or playing under a guest conductor.

For the Sacramento Philharmonic, both were in play Sunday afternoon at the Mondavi Center. The program it tackled was an interesting one: an engaging world premiere for violin and cello by composer Daron Aric Hagen, and Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."

And it performed under the baton of guest conductor and rising star Laura Jackson.

Performing in the sonically generous confines of the Mondavi's Jackson Hall is as close as it gets to touring for this orchestra. The result was a blooming of sound. It's a sound you will never hear at the Philharmonic's home base, the Community Center Theater in Sacramento. The argument can be made that it is as much the musicians who notice this bloom as it is the audience. Regardless of who notices, the result is always better music-making.

Under Jackson, the orchestra showed it is open to new approaches. Jackson, who recently finished a three-year stint as assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony, replaced Michael Morgan, who had committed to conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic on Sunday.

Jackson proved why she's on the short list as a candidate for new conductor at several orchestras, including the Berkeley Symphony. She's a deeply grounded, no-nonsense and intuitive conductor.

Jackson led the orchestra in a tactile performance of Hagen's world premiere of his concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, "Masquerade."

This four-movement work was blessed with the presence of violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson as soloists. If there ever was a poster boy for clarity and accurate tone on the violin, it's Laredo. Hagen's concerto is written as an intense dialogue between violin and cello, and these two musicians delivered. In this engaging and lightly dissonant work, the music traces an evolution from hope to lament, to a joyous end. Hagen has an affinity for writing interesting and original music for strings. It's music that takes on profound dimensions when instruments speak simultaneously. Laredo and Robinson played the four movements with their trademark robust sound. The orchestra, especially the strings, sounded taut throughout.

Conductor Jackson was willing to let the music bloom, her conducting style crisp and efficient, yet filled with bursts of controlled emotional cues.

This conducting style deeply impacted Berlioz's hyper- intense "Fantastique," possibly the most vivid example of program music ever written. This music is all about fleshing out human ardor and fervor. Jackson kept the orchestra on an even keel throughout Berlioz's large-canvas work.

The performance wasn't always a dynamic or spotless affair. Some of the fire and brimstone demanded in Berlioz's work was delivered in guarded fashion, especially in some entrances. But as affairs go, it was consistently delivered. More important, it was interesting musical storytelling, with a strong bond between orchestra and conductor.

The highlight of the evening was the orchestra's playing of the final movement "Songe d'une nuit." This movement is a dark and witty musical ride, and Jackson drew the right musical audacity from the orchestra, especially horns and winds.

In this performance, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

Copyright 2008