By Lawrence Budmen

Festival Miami, the University of Miami’s annual musical cornucopia, opened on Saturday. This year’ s event welcomes Shelton Berg as the new Dean of the Frost School of Music. Running the gamut from tango to chamber music to jazz, the festival concludes on November 9 and 10 with Haydn’s great oratorio The Creation. 

Opening night brought its share of surprises. When Gabriela Montero, a UM alumnus and rising star, cancelled her scheduled appearance due to illness, Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker substituted as soloist in Rachmaninoff’ s Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor. His performance was a qualified success

Top prize winner at the 1984 Leeds International Piano Competition, Parker brought well honed technical agility and seasoned artistry to Rachmaninoff’ s popular score. While conductor Thomas Sleeper and the Frost Symphony Orchestra fanned the flames of this romantic war horse with white heat, Parker was often dispassionate and cerebral. In the ruminative Adagio sostenuto, he offered some lovely coloristic effects but missed the sweeping passions that propel the music. 

Parker was most effective in the concerto’s climactic episodes in which his powerful octaves exploded to tremendous effect. His Billy Joel encore was diverting but seemed out of place after Rachmaninoff. 

The concert opened with the premiere of Chanson pour cordes by Lansing McLoskey, a composition faculty member. Originally composed for the Calcutta Chamber Orchestra in India, the piece is well crafted but overly earnest, bearing a strong resemblance to the pessimistic slow movements of Shostakovich’s late string quartets. The orchestra’ s strings inhabited the score with emotional fervor.

Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A Major proved a trial for the student ensemble’ s brass section. Wayward horns and hit or miss trumpets played havoc with balances and orchestral precision. Except for a hard pressed oboe, the winds delivered solid playing and the strings shone with particular luster 

The performance’s vibrant energy was due in no small part to Sleeper, who offered a tautly paced, tightly organized reading. In the Gusman Concert Hall’ s very live acoustics, he never allowed the sound to become overpowering. Beethoven’s symphony of the dance was realized with appealing brusqueness and vivacity. 

Cuartetango String Quartet and dancers perform New Tango from Argentina on Thursday. Friday brings guitarist Manuel Barrueco playing pieces by Bach, Piazzolla, Turina, and Albeniz. See www.festivalmiami.com or phone 305-284-4940. 

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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