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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Vallejo Symphony / Sunday, November 8, 2015
Christian Baldini, conductor. Carrie Hennessey, soprano

Conductor Christian Baldini

BALDINI LEADS VSO IN EXCITING NEW SATELLITE PIECE

by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, November 8, 2015

Christian Baldini led the Vallejo Symphony Orchestra in a fun and varied concert Nov. 8, the VSO’s second concert of the 2015-2016 season in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium.

The composer of the first piece, U. C. Davis faculty member Mika Pelo, was present to witness this second performance of his newest work “Satellite,” which is dedicated to the conductor. The ultra-modern, sizzling response to a symphony by Mr. Pelo's muse Carl Nielsen was followed by a set of arias sung by soprano Carrie Hennessey. The concert concluded with Schumann's First Symphony, titled “Spring”.

Mr. Baldini is currently the director of the U.C. Davis Symphony and the Camellia Symphony in Sacramento, and is the second of three candidates vying this season for the position of music director at the VSO. Compared with the first candidate, Thomas Heuser, who conducted the opening concert in September, Mr. Baldini brought a more mature style and focused presentation to the music. The conductor speaks quickly and directly, yet one can sense a bridled enthusiasm beneath the succinct phrases as he speaks. “I would love to talk more about the history and meaning behind the Schumann symphony, but I had better move on or I will run out of time,” he apologized during his pre-concert talk.

“Satellite” struck me as typical in one sense, as the ultra-modern classical sound is distinctly set apart from traditional melodies and other sound progressions that classical music audiences are accustomed to hearing, and this piece fit that mold. Even the individual tonalities sound very new and different, using instruments in non-traditional ways. On the other hand, the piece is unique in its consistent message, and the parts are not scattered and its dry tension and rhythmic structure are compelling.

Commenting on his work, Mr. Pelo alluded to Nielsen, “…as an important part of my life for a long time. When Maestro Baldini asked me for a short orchestra piece, I decided to let Carl Nielsen inspire me once again.” Rather than expound on a theme from that composer’s Op. 35 Violin Sonata, Mr. Pelo focused on the inspiration he gleaned from the 1912 Sonata. “I studied it intensely for three minutes, then put it away. I doubt anyone will actually hear any Nielsen in my piece. I hope, however, that the listener may notice (the) unpredictable and even 'crazy' feature I find (to be) a constant in Nielsen's music, and that I love.” Mr. Baldini’s conducting conveyed a cohesive structure

In addition to comunicating a cohesive expression of feeling and structure, Mr. Baldini’s direction drove the orchestra's overall mastery and synchronicity. “Satellite” was the shining star of the afternoon, and the piece most perfectly and beautifully executed.

“Satellite” was followed by a trio of familiar arias, the first and most extraordinary being Verdi's “Tu che la vanità” from the opera Don Carlo. Ms. Hennessey, who has wowed audiences in her performances with the Vallejo Symphony and VSO Presents in the past, was extraordinary in her performance of the Verdi aria, and the orchestra matched her in virtuosity. It was a simply stunning performance. Two Mozart opera arias followed, “In quall eccessi, o Numi!...Mi readi quell’alma ingrate” from the 1787 Don Giovanni (K. 527), and the “E Susanna non vien... Dove sono” from the 1778 Marriage of Figaro. The Mozart arias were sung with grace and excellent emotion by the versatile and polished soprano.

The afternoon concert concluded with Schumann's B-Flat Major Symphony. Mr. Baldini spent considerable time during his pre-concert talk sharing some of the fascinating personal history behind the Schumann selection. Besides the obvious allusion to the melting of northern Germany's icy winter into much-awaited spring, he explained that the composition also corresponds to the events in Schumann's life at the time when he wrote it in 1841.

One notable feature of the “Spring” Symphony is a rolling in by waves of synchronized strings, which the orchestra mastered with smooth and gentle feeling. There is also a great deal of lush, romantic beauty in the piece, and the musicians expressed it all very well. While the most spellbinding portions of the piece were executed with polish, the orchestra was not quite so precise in its transitions. At times some instruments came in perceptibly late, and sound levels were not always well blended. Small surprises of exquisite beauty, subtle and delicate or powerful and vivid, occur throughout the work.

The final concert of the VSO season will feature conductor Marc Taddei and baritone Hadleigh Adams performing in Hogan works by Stravinsky, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Tickets are $35, with discounts available for seniors, students and groups. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 643-4441 or visit www.vallejosymphony.org.