New West Symphony conductor Marcelo Lehninger readily admitted at the orchestra`s season finale in Oxnard that it would be an emotional evening for him.
Key among the reasons, of course, was that the guest piano soloist, Sonia Goulart, is his mother as well as a distinguished international artist. It was Goulart`s first performance with New West and her choice of concertos, Chopin`s No. 2 in F Minor, carried special meaning for Lehninger, who smiled when he mentioned that the first time he heard her play it he was still in her womb awaiting birth.
That they were exceptionally simpatico when the moment came for the concerto performance was evident from the first second that piano and orchestra bonded, with the combined instrumental forces introducing the opening movement but the piano quickly seizing the momentum as Goulart`s fleet fingers and commanding expressiveness took the spotlight. A devoted son on the one hand eminently attuned to his mother`s nuances, and on the other urging the orchestra on to compatible support, Lehninger brought the dual forces together in a memorable match.
The youthful-looking Goulart graciously returned to add one of Chopin`s engaging waltzes as an encore. The beguiled audience rose with sustained applause as she took her bows.
The concert, which was repeated Saturday night in Thousand Oaks and Sunday in Santa Monica, opened with the world premiere of Russell Steinberg`s Cosmic Dust, a brief tour of the far reaches of space commissioned by the New West. The segment titles Magic Sky, Shooting Stars, Interstellar Dust and Nova suggest the restless cosmic mix so mysterious in ancient times and so increasingly visible in the 21st century as astronomers capture the scope and beauty of the constantly changing treasures of the skies. Touching on the distant magic with clever manipulation of the strings as they meet the other instruments and whirl through beauties beyond what the human eye can detect, Cosmic Dust reminds earthlings that, as Steinberg`s program notes suggest, "We are literally stardust, part of this eternal cosmic pageant." The inspiring words are those of Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who also pointed out the "dust is not only the stuff of Earth, but of stars as well. The orchestra handled the musical exploration with aplomb, aided by an impressive addition of members of the Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra, founded in 1961 and now nurturing more than 250 students.
Even younger musicians, from Ventura`s Sheridan Way School and DeAnza Middle School, also took the stage. With just one or two years of instruction, members of the New West`s Harmony Project for students from third through 12th grade enthusiastically engaged their string and wind instruments in familiar contemporary pieces, including The Beatles` "Hey Jude," which got the audience clapping along.
After the intermission, Lehninger returned with another emotional moment, the announcement of the departure of the orchestra`s concertmaster and frequent soloist, Danielle Belen, for a full-time position as teacher of violin at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance in Ann Arbor.
But there was still energy and commitment enough to conclude the evening with Beethoven`s Fifth Symphony, played with remarkable zest and freshness by a resilient orchestra charged with the spirit of the many-faceted evening.