The News Tribune by Rosemary Ponnekanti
The new Tacoma Symphony pattern of a big, enthusiastic crowd, a robust orchestra and a phenomenal soloist continued at the season opening concert in the Pantages Theater last Saturday, with an all-Russian program that saw German pianist Andreas Boyde romp through Tchaikovsky’s second piano concerto and director Sarah Ioannides lead the ensemble to responsive and sonorous playing.
It’s a good start for Ioannides’ second year at the helm of an orchestra that’s getting its groove in both musical drive and audience popularity. To a nearly sold-out house, the TSO tackled both the rambling landscape of Prokofiev’s “Russian Overture” and the familiar one of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” with clear commitment to their new leader, who manages to be both passionate and meticulous.
Many conductors, faced with programming an orchestral pops concert, will pick a theme, throw in some favorite tunes and top the whole thing off with a crowd-pulling soloist to call it good. Not Sarah Ioannides, whose first pops concert with the Tacoma Symphony last Sunday was a tour de force not just of Celtic-inspired music, carefully thought through for variety and scope, but soloists and composers brought together by Ioannides herself, who emceed the entire afternoon complete with a mock-Irish accent. It was an example of the kind of attention to detail the new director is bringing to Tacoma.
Despite selling 500 seats to an extra performance of “The Messiah” in Gig Harbor last Thursday night, the Tacoma Symphony still filled St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma on the Friday performance – a testament both to Handel’s beloved oratorio and to some curiosity as to how incoming music director Sarah Ioannides would treat it. Both fulfilled expectations in a thoroughly enjoyable performance that was brisk in pace and crisp in tone, with soloists that, despite their mismatch, shone musically.
It was Sarah Ioannides’ first concert as music director of the Tacoma Symphony, bringing with her Dame Evelyn Glennie to premiere a new percussion concerto and its composer Sean O’Boyle.
Part of the success was a program thoughtfully chosen to back O’Boyle’s neo-Romantic “Portraits of Immortal Love” with a rich Impressionist soundscape: Ravel, Debussy and Respighi. Part of it was Ioannides herself, with great attention to detail (ends of phrases, hidden melodies) and innovative staging (women’s chorus singing siren songs from either side of the audience, an army of brass ranged around the balcony).
Then came an intelligent trick from Ioannides: flowing directly on from the Debussy into Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome” to create one lush, mammoth, seven-movement Impressionist symphony.
And if last night’s creativity and brilliance of sound is anything to go by, Ioannides’ five-year term promises good things for the city.