LBSO Opening: The Same, Yet Not

  • 10/18/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By John Farrell

The concert that opened the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra’s 2012-2013 was predictably glorious, with Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke, starting his 12th season with the orchestra, leading his charges in Prokofiev’s exciting Piano Concerto No. 3 with Haochen Zhang as soloist and the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony to finish the evening.

It was also very different.


No, no, the music was the same. The LBSO, after a four month vacation, filled the Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center with thrilled listeners. But both the pre-concert celebration and the post-concert party were innovations, and the Balcony Club, another new idea tried for the first time at the concert on Oct. 6, proved itself already a success.

The LBSO has played at the Terrace Theater since it was built, more than 30 years ago. But for the last decade, anyway, the more than one-block long plaza and fountain have served only to decorate the theater at the other end. In Los Angeles the plaza next to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’ home to the Los Angeles Opera, was once also an empty expanse but for nearly two decades now it has been home to a cafe, a restaurant, plenty of tables and chairs and, most recently, a very popular outdoor taco stand. It is now a popular place to meet for a pre-concert drink or meal.

The LBSO has only six concerts a year (the next is Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.) but they have decided to make their own outdoor pre-party venue, with fire pits, heaters, seating and sofas and two outside bars for patrons. On Oct. 6 the area was used for a post-concert champagne reception as well.

The Balcony Club, housed in the Terrace Theater’s balcony section, also has a special bar for the patrons who pay as little as $so for their seats. They can come and go during the concert, and cell-phone texting and non-flash photograph are permitted in the hall during the performance. There are also large screen televisions in the lounge for those who want to sit with their refreshments. This time the Lounge hosted an intermission beer-tasting that was successful. The Lounge is intended to attract new concert patrons.

All the new ideas were in the presentation of the concert: the music was, as is usual for the LBSO, a beautiful mixture of the 19th and 20th centuries. Cheng, the 2009 Van Cliburn Piano Competition winner, has played with the Symphony before, with the same composer’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Cheng is a slight young man, but when sits in front of a grand piano he is immediately in charge. The Prokofiev is monumentally challenging, mixing passages of extraordinary passion with moments of rapid-fire fingering. Cheng never seemed to notice his own speed: it was a treat to watch his feet use the instrument’s pedals with footwork that seemed more like Fred Astaire than any instrumentalist. After the rapid-fire concerto he returned to offer Debussy’s “The Engulfed Cathedral,” a piece of extreme delicacy, as an encore.

After intermission Diemecke led the orchestra through the most heroic of Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies, the Fifth. He lead with a sure hand and slower tempos in the slow sections than usually heard, making the work even more contrasted and temporally and dynamically charged. He managed the final rest before the coda with near perfection, but, despite his pre-performance warning, someone clapped. (just once.) He took that applause in amused stride and finished with an unforgettable final few bars.

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