Minutes before the concert she played Sunday, Joanna Picker could be seen outside the stage door of Royce Hall at UCLA--scurrying to pick up waste paper tossed by the night wind.
"My good-luck symbol," explained the National Debut Competition winner, to no one in particular. But the 22-year-old Austrian, who studied at USC before capturing the prize that put her on stage with guest conductor Keith Clark and the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, needn't have worried.
Luck was hardly a factor in her compelling performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto.
Here is an artist whose utter involvement and keen musicianship can withstand any passing mishap--though none occurred Sunday. Here is an artist who imbues every phrase with a sense of moment and still manages to retain a cohesive voice.
Impressive for both the contemplative spirit she reveals and the no-holds-barred passion she gets caught up in, Picker can tap lyric refinement as easily as bold outburst. She is not afraid to probe the deep growls of her instrument when indicated, yet she finds just the right lightened tone to define a seraphic passage.
Because she can start a phrase so delicately and carry through with perfect legato, one could not discern the point of contact. The end result benefitted the ensemble enormously.
Otherwise Clark & Co. provided competent support. But the Pacific Symphony music director's reading of Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra" remained a bland, homogenized thing--devoid of the brilliant displays of virility that define the late Romanticist. Clark opened with an invigorating overture to Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."