MEI-TING SUN (12-18-05)

By Lawrence Budmen

The vision of veteran orchestral administrator Marshall Turkin has given South Florida a new, fully professional orchestra. With the demise of the Florida Philharmonic and the lack of any successor organization, Turkin (a former top executive of the Pittsburgh and Detroit Symphony Orchestras and the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer Blossom Festival) formed the 31 member Boca Raton Philharmonic Symphonia. Already an impressive ensemble, the orchestra made a splendid showing at the second concert of its inaugural season on December 18 at the FAU University Theater in Boca Raton. 

The comfortable, modernist lines and bright acoustics of the University Theater provided the perfect showcase for this highly promising ensemble. Alastair Willis, Resident Conductor of the Seattle Symphony, was a lively presence on the podium. As musical icing on the cake, Mei-Ting Sun (Winner of Miami’s 2005 American Chopin Competition) played impressive Beethoven and a stunning party piece of an encore. 

Willis commenced the afternoon with a vigorous, crisp performance of the Overture to Beethoven’s ballet score The Creatures of Prometheus. Willis’s brisk; no nonsense manner drew disciplined playing from the chamber orchestra. He vividly delineates a score’s inner voicings. Willis did not neglect Beethoven’s Olympian side. The overture’s opening chords and stately introduction had weight and gravity. 

A Doctoral Fellow at New York’s Julliard School, pianist Mei-Ting Sun is a dynamic virtuoso and a born showman. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 (Emperor) is one of the most daunting works in the keyboard literature. From the first monumental chords, it was clear that this young pianist was more than up to the challenge. He gave a performance that surpassed the Emperors of many veterans of the keyboard. Mei Ting Sun phrased eloquently and brought grandeur to Beethoven’s heavenly strophes. His razor sharp technical facility and ability to sustain elongated musical paragraphs was always at the service of the music. The crystal like tones of the second theme were balm to jaded ears. The noble Adagio was given space and airiness. Exquisitely nuanced tonal shadings brought grace and poetry to the long breathed musical line. Willis beautifully dovetailed the dialogue between winds and piano with the soloist’s phrasing. The soloist brought Vienesse lilt and brio to the final Rondo. Willis’s buoyant, modernist take on Beethoven’s orchestral writing (a la Roger Norington) enhanced an energetic, vibrant performance and a brilliant solo turn by a gifted young artist. 

As an encore Mei-Ting Sun presented his own transcription of Art Tatum’s classic Tiger Rag. His rapid fire runs and arpeggios dazzled the ear. Mei-Ting Sun is a sensitive musician and a great entertainer. He played up a storm in Tatum’s sizzling jazz showpiece. The house really rocked and the enthusiastic crowd were on their feet cheering.

Musica Celestis by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis provided some heavenly sounds for the holidays. The work is beautifully conceived for string ensemble. It owes an artistic debt to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. While Kernis is no Barber, his piece is a lovely vignette. The Boca Symphonia’s strings were smooth as silk under Willis’s subtly nuanced direction. Concertmaster Huigang Chen and Principal violist Scott O’Donnell contributed eloquent, richly burnished solo turns.

The Suite from Stravinsky’s 1920 ballet score Pulcinella is a joyous reinvention of themes by Pergolessi. Willis’s rousing view of the opening Sinfonia was prelude to a supple reading that did not ignore Stravinsky’s astringent modes. Flutist Christine Nield’s solos (particularly in the Gavotte and Variations) were a source of continuous aural delight. The brass fugue had pointed wit and double bassist Shigeru Ishikawa was nothing less than brilliant in his difficult solo. The contrasting timbres of visceral brass and silky strings made the rapid fire Finale really glow. Alastair Willis is an imaginative interpreter and a brilliant orchestral technician. A splendid concert by a wonderful new addition to South Florida’s cultural crown!

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