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Horacio esta caliente

Pianist rocks the PAC
by Christopher Key

I can’t remember seeing an audience leap to its feet quite so quickly as the crowd at tonight’s Bellingham Festival of Music concert. The musical force that propelled them was Horacio Gutiérrez. The Cuban-born pianist was nothing short of spectacular and continues the tradition BFOM has established of bringing stellar guest artists to Bellingham.

But let’s take things in order. The festival orchestra, an always astonishing aggregation, led off the program with Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to Oberon. We’ll overlook the fact that the noble ‘von’ before his surname was his father’s invention. Carl’s music most assuredly gave it authenticity. The opera Oberon was von Weber’s tenth and last. Other than the title, the work doesn’t owe much to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream except perhaps for a bit of Puckish musical humor. The horn section led the way through this delightful fantasy.

Señor Gutiérrez then took charge of the concert grand for a performance of Sergei Prokoviev’s Piano Concerto in C Major, Op.26. Prokoviev was one of those Russian prodigies that the former Soviet Union should have been boasting about when it was claiming to have invented everything since the wheel. Like most geniuses, Prokoviev had a tendency to break the rules and that didn’t sit well with the comrades.

Pianist Horacio Gutierrez headlined the Bellingham Festival of Music Concert at Western Washington University. Photo credit - Christian Steiner

He fled to the United States, then to Paris, but eventually came back to the Motherland. Along the way, he composed some of the greatest music of the 20th century and even when he returned to the USSR, he refused to toe the line. How he escaped the wrath of the artistically-challenged Stalin remains a mystery. The ultimate irony is that Prokoviev and Stalin died on the same day in 1953.

Gutiérrez brought a lot of Hispanic fire to the Concerto, which would have pleased Prokoviev. Perhaps the best summation of the performance came from a comment I overheard between the first and second movement: “That guy’s got twenty fingers.” The pianist received solid backup from the orchestra, especially from clarinetist Laura Ardan and flutist Christina Smith.

Maestro Michael Palmer and the orchestra put an exclamation point at the end of the program with Robert Schumann’s Symphony #2 in C Major, Op. 61. Schumann was a leader in the Romantic tradition and this symphony exemplifies that. The strings were glorious, especially in the third movement. The horn section of this orchestra is superb and they got a chance to show off once again.

There were a few empty seats at the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center and that astounds me. This is a world-class festival and every performance should be sold out. Get with it, Bellingham. The next concert features rock-star cellist Joshua Roman, back by popular demand. It’s on Saturday, July 10, and you can make your reservations by calling the box office at 360-650-6146 or at http://www.tickets.wwu.edu.

Because of the insane schedule of reviews this month, my colleague Dr. Mitchell Kahn will be reviewing the next concert whilst I attend Bard on the Beach. I need to clone myself.

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