The last gasp of the Pacific Symphony's 1999 summer season at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre was a cold one climatically, but musically warmhearted. Guest conductor Barry Jekowsky led a Tchaikovsky Spectacular--still a tradition in Orange County, though abandoned after three decades at Hollywood Bowl--with authority, solidity and a buoyant podium manner.
What the orchestra played best and most stylishly came after intermission, in an eight-part suite from the "Swan Lake" ballet and in the ubiquitous "1812" Overture. Perhaps the fact that some of its members play so often in the Orange County Performing Arts Center pit for touring dance companies gives the Pacific band an advantage over less experienced ensembles.
Certainly, the orchestra sailed through these familiar excerpts breezily and with great panache and fine detailing, guided firmly by Jekowsky. Among several virtuosic soloists on display were concertmaster Raymond Kobler, cellist Timothy Landauer and trumpeter Tony Ellis. The only quibble in the conductor's otherwise astute and musical pacing was a tempo just a hair too quick for the Pas de Quatre.
Years of mediocre--mostly uncaring--performances of the "1812" Overture were forgotten in the highly polished, dynamically sculptured performance Jekowsky coaxed from the willing and spirited orchestra. The fireworks show that accompanied the work's final minutes was pleasant, but no more than that.
Russian pianist Ilya Itin had all the strength and fleetness required in the B-flat-minor Piano Concerto, which he played with conviction. The excellent Yamaha instrument he played on, however, seemed measurably more brittle and metallic--particularly in the top octaves--than when last heard here. At 32, however, Itin is a comer; he seems to have an individual and colorful musical personality. Jekowsky, founding conductor of the 13-year-old East Bay-based California Symphony Orchestra, proved an enlightened, sensitive collaborator.
The evening, attended by an enthusiastic crowd of 8,149, began innocuously with two curtain-raisers, the "Coronation March" (1883) and the Gopak from "Mazeppa," played dutifully and with little character.