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It was good, at the end. The weather gods cooperated on July 12. People turned out in droves. The NC Symphony - with lots of substitute players - was in good form. The themed program - it was Latin Nite at Regency Park - was attractive. The guest artists - Arturo Sandoval and his ensemble - were spectacular. The sound was ok. (Well, it was ok from where we were, more or less.) And the NCS' Assistant Conductor, Jeffrey Pollock, was ebullient for what NCS President and CEO reminded the crowd was his (Pollock's) farewell to the orchestra, after a three-year hitch.
Pollock began and ended the first half of the concert - his half, basically - with arrangements by Carmen Dragon, one of the best transcribers ever. Lecuona's 1929 rhumba hit, "Siboney," realized with considerable panache, got things off to a festive start; among the band leaders who enjoyed hits with this little number was Dizzy Gillespie, whose name turned up again, later in the evening. Pollock commented that the program involved music with Latin influences, and that was certainly true, although not all of it was by Latin composers. Next up was Ginastera, whose Estancia Suite was chopped down to one component, "Malambo," the "cowboy" bit. The NCS was cookin' by this time, and the reading had a great deal going for it. So, too, did, Jaime Texidor's "Amparito Roca" ("The Sheltered Cliff") a march (or, if you prefer, a pasodoble) that bears a distinct Latin stamp - but which turns up from time to time in concerts by US military bands, too. (Its authorship is, for the record, disputed - it may be by Reginald Clifford Ridewood, an Englishman!) Russia was represented with the second part of Capriccio Espagnole, by Rimsky-Korsakov, which featured numerous fine solos by Concertmaster Rebekah Binford and others. Were we imagining things, or did this chunk get more applause than anything on the first half? It could have - and, if so, this might serve to reinforce the series' evident thrust toward more "complete" works and fewer bits and pieces.... The "Danse bohème," from Bizet's Carmen , introduced a Frenchman's take on Spanish fare; the rendition was remarkable for its delicacy and restraint, which obliged the crowd to listen intently - and most of the folks near us actually did so! Zequinha Abreu's "Tico Tico," inimitably done up by Dragon, brought the fairly short first part of the evening to a happy conclusion.
And then Sandoval the Great arrived, and the crowd went wild. This marked his first appearance with the NCS, but he has played in Raleigh before - back in 1994, just a few years after he moved to Miami, he was a headliner for ArtsPlosure. For his bio, see http://www.arturosandoval.com/ [inactive 11/03]. He's a remarkable artist who merits the cliché "multi-talented" more than most players to whom it is appended. He plays the trumpet like no one else. He scats. He is a stellar percussionist. His pianistic skills are exceptional. He apparently knows his way around synthesizers well enough to fake a mean guitar. And he out McFerrined Bobby himself with his carrying-on, aping saxes, basses, and Lord knows what all as his half of the program - much more than half, of course - unfolded. Those who expected to hear one or the other of his great horns soaring over all cannot have been disappointed, but there was, as noted, a whole lot more to the show. And that "more" included his own band (Robert Rodriguez, piano, Dennis Marks, bass, Samuel Torres, percussion, Felipe Lamoglia, sax, and Ernesto Simpson, drums) and the NCS and Pollock, too, in some of the selections that were given.
The second half, which ran nearly 90 minutes and featured an assortment of colored lights, cast on or perhaps emerging from the underside of the roof of the shell, thus covered a lot of ground, starting with Sandoval's own "Rhythm of the World" (with the NCS) and Michel Legrand's arrangement of the artist's Gillespie tribute, "To Diz, with Love." There was echt Gillespie, filtered however through Sandoval & Co., in "Groovin' High," introduced as a "Latin gas symphonic arrangement." Sandoval "sang" some of parts - later, he'd play trumpet and sing at the same time, performing duets(!) with himself(!). In "Surena," he played piano as well as any jazz keyboardist we've heard this side of Art Tatum's 78s (who of course played in an entirely different way). Still later, Sandoval dragged out what may arguably be his "greatest hit," "Marianela Says Goodbye," from the Emmy-award winning documentary about his life. Family tributes included "A mis Abuelos," written as a salute to his (Spanish) grandparents, with which the show nominally ended, at around 9:50 p.m. But the crowd would not let the guest artists go, so after a time they returned for still more music, which served to serenade many happy concertgoers into the (by then) cooler night air. Sandoval the Great was, well, great. And the NCS and Pollock did just fine, too. We'll miss Pollock, who has been much more involved in the musical life of our community than Symphony subscribers who don't otherwise get out much may realize. To him, we say thanks - and all best.
It took Summerfest a while to get in gear this year, thanks in large measure to miserable weather, much of the time. Maestro William Henry Curry, Artistic Director of Summerfest, needs to appease Greg Fishel and the other weather guessers next year. But despite the probs - and there were many - this season ended on a very high note - was it C or D or E-flat? - so we bid our state orchestra farewell till next time. And when's that? Labor Day weekend. Yikes! The season's nearly upon us!
And the sound? We've learned from experience to sit near the sound booth, although we'll admit that not everyone can do so, lest it become very crowded there. On this occasion, some of the problems reported previously by various CVNC ers were again evident. But after visiting with the sound technician - and after discovering that, again, an off-duty NCS stickwaver (Curry himself) was in the booth (as it were), too - it became apparent that the sound is probably as good as it's likely to get, absent a large infusion of cash - which neither Cary nor the NCS appears to have at the moment. The problems, which center on the sound of the strings, when you boil everything down, are actually twofold: there simply aren't enough strings in the NCS, no matter where it happens to play (and the summer crowd doesn't even include all the regulars...); and the microphone placements, which are driven by many factors, including non-musical ones - such as the requirement to strike the setups pronto in the event of rain. That, senior sound tech Eb Strickland, of AVCON, told us, is why there's not a "classic" setup of aerial mikes, such as one sees in photos of recording sessions in, say, Carnegie Hall. (Water and expensive electronic equipment clearly don't mix.) So unless and until the system is rethought and re-engineered, it may not get much better than it is. That said, from near the booth, well forward of the pole-mounted speaker array that points toward the high-rent district, the sound - on this occasion - was not at all bad, and most of the time, it was pretty good. In Binford's solos, for example, what we heard sounded like a real violin. The cellos and basses came across as comfortingly rich and full. The timpani were puny, for reasons that were not entirely clear - those drums were obviously well miked. It was, as others have noted, the upper strings - the violins, specifically - that were problematical, some of the time. At best, the sound, heard from out front, suggested a batch of individually-miked players, as opposed to a section. More fiddles, picked up from a greater distance, would surely help. And they sounded better at lower dynamic levels - mezzoforte or below, basically - than when everyone was going full tilt. As Roy C. Dicks noted last time, the amplified sound's shortcomings are particularly apparent to those listeners who know the sound of this orchestra in its home venue, indoors, in downtown Raleigh. It is a problem, and it needs fixing - and it's a problem that apparently will be receiving more attention. Indeed, a post-season (post mortem?) session is planned. We'll wager there may be big naming rights for a gift of the requisite size....