13 August, 2009

Concert Review: AYO/Program A/Steuermann/Pontzious

pic: Jean Louis Steuermann

Concert Review: AYO/Program A/Steuermann/Pontzious

August 13, CCCH

The Asian Youth Orchestra give a pair of concerts annually. Program A is conducted by co-founder Richard Pontzious and program B by the principal conductor (or substitute).

Although I am not at all fond of Pontzious, to say the least, I end up attending both concerts each year for various reasons, not least to support AYO, and because of steep discount if tickets for both concerts are purchased together, an irresistible offer.

In the context of the program, Barber's Adagio for Strings was rather incongruent as opener. It started beautifully; the violas were simply ravishing. Ponztious ruined the nice build-up by edging onto the climax rather precipitously, and the piece never really tugged at the heart. A missed chance.

Anchored by a steady snare-drum, Ravel's Bolero was nicely played. Despite occasional fluffs, the winds and brass were characterful. Again, Ponztious rather impatiently edged onto the climax, which paradoxically deprived the piece of some aplomb, kind of premature ejaculation for this piece that is often described in sexual terms.

Soloist Jean Louis Steuermann was the big surprise of the evening in Ravel's Concerto in G. Although Ponztious drove the orchestra rather roughly during climaxes in the outer movements in his best attempts to drown the soloist, Steuermann was rather unfazed and more than survived. Playing with full keyboard command, rounded tone across the octaves and seamless phrasing, he delivered a reading of great posture. Never going for surface effects nor trivial sentiments, he was elegance personified. This concerto had been played in HK many times before. IMHO, this is best performance.

The best cast was evidently saved for Stravinsky's Firebird suite. The performance was beautifully colored by the various soloists and orchestral unity was very good. Even Pontzious became steady, allowing the climaxes to unfold better than before. A resounding success and truly enjoyable.

Overall, I think this year's AYO is better than the last. There were many moments of great beauty. Most laudably, the wind and brass players played with warmth and color. With so many Asian talents, it's inexcusable the HKPO is hiring only more expat players.

Note: The concert shall be broadcast on RTHK4 at 8 pm on Friday, August 21st, and repeated at 2 pm on Wednesday, August 26th.

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