SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Symphony celebrated the first day of summer Wednesday evening with the opening concert of its SummerPops season at Mission Bay's Hospitality Point. In a wise reversal of previous years' programming, the symphony opened with its Tchaikovsky blockbuster program. The idea of a Tchaikovsky summer season grand finale always looked good on paper, but, by summer's end, most orchestra members found themselves short on stamina and only minimally enthused by the novelty of al fresco music-making on Mission Bay.
Wednesday's opening performance, however, found the orchestra in fine shape after a month's hiatus from the regular season. Guest conductor Bruce Hangen worked with amiable efficiency on the podium, thoughtfully tending such staples as "Romeo and Juliet," the Polonaise from "Eugene Onegin" and four dance movements from the "Nutcracker" ballet.
Hangen, music director of the Omaha Symphony, may not have displayed much talent for pops banter, that unique brand of oral program note that mixes apocryphal anecdotes with assurances that the upcoming piece will be neither long nor painful. But he was undaunted facing the players.
Oddly enough, the program's high point was not a Tchaikovsky opus, but Edouard Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole," with 11-year-old violinist Leila Josefowicz as soloist. The audience gasped with amazement at her stunning technique and the aplomb with which she subdued the work's formidable challenges. A brilliantly focused sound, a true sense of pitch and a determined downbow were some of Josefowicz's evident virtues. As if she had not adequately demonstrated her prowess, she played "The Flight of the Bumblebee" as her encore.
There was a certain inflexibility in her approach to the Lalo, and Hangen had some difficulty keeping the orchestra with the soloist in the opening movement. In the final movement, the soloist needed to complete her phrases with the same precision as she began them. But at her young age, this performer has plenty of time to polish her ample skills, and depth of interpretation is likely to come with experience. This is clearly a talent to watch.
A few improvements at the symphony's Hospitality Point location include yet another new sound system, although this one displayed more depth and true fidelity than previous ones. The sound engineers favored overly loud levels during the program's opening half, but backed off to more reasonable levels during the Lalo.
A total of 2,406 patrons attended the performance, which ended with the apparently obligatory "1812 Overture" and fireworks. This program continues through Saturday at Hospitality Point.