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Music Review: Long Beach Symphony at the Terrace Theatre

April 28, 2013|By Richard S. Ginell
  • Composer Steven Mackey takes a bow after the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra performs the World Premiere of his piece "Urban Ocean" on April 27, 2013 at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach.
Composer Steven Mackey takes a bow after the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra… (Chris Trela )

Steven Mackey, the rock 'n' roll guitarist-turned-professor of music and chair at Princeton, has had a lot of his music played here lately.  Only three weeks after the West Coast premiere of his new piano concerto in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Mackey turned up again at a Long Beach Symphony concert in the Terrace Theatre on Saturday night — this time with a world premiere whose genesis occurred during a chance meeting two years ago in Disney Hall.

That encounter with Dennis and Suzanne Poulsen resulted in a commission for Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific, “Urban Ocean” — and it turned out to be one of Mackey’s more immediately attractive pieces, one that wears its 12 1/2 minutes comfortably.  

The piece begins with a wash of color as if diving into the ocean, after which sustained textures build and ebb in waves amid a lot of enticing detail, with contrasting busy, snazzy writing representing the land. 

If you are thinking “La Mer,” you wouldn’t be far off the mark, though Mackey’s language is in no way imitative of Debussy.

Enrique Arturo Diemecke and the LBSO handled it with remarkable assurance on just a pair of rehearsals — and the performance was recorded for a limited-edition CD to be sold only at the aquarium.

Less-assured, curiously, was the orchestra’s accompaniment in the Ravel Piano Concerto in G. Italian-born pianist Alessio Bax — who is suavely impressive in a new Signum disc of Mozart piano concertos — had good ideas for his first performance of the Ravel but may have been hampered by a piano that lacked a singing tone.  

Yet Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 was anything but routine; with Diemecke stoking the fire, the orchestra dug in with a rich, thick timbre and some ferocity, particularly in the development of the first movement and the finale’s blazing coda.

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