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Wunderkind Joshua Roman returns to Seattle
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Wunderkind Joshua Roman returns to Seattle
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Symphony Orchestra with Joshua Roman, cello
May 30
Benaroya Hall


The "Overture" from Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride revealed both the strengths and weakness of guest conductor James DePreist. Technically clean, beautifully balanced, and nicely articulated, it nonetheless lacked excitement. It all seemed a little metronomic, never quite getting off the ground despite the light agility of the strings.

If I hadn't been so excited about what followed, I might have attributed my bored reaction to the Smetana to my own fatigue from too much gardening in our incredible spring weather. But the world premiere of David Stock's 'Cello Concerto' left little to be desired, both in its execution and in the composition itself.

Listening to the orchestration of the concerto was a little like seeing a dance performance in which every move seems totally new and meaningful. Stock seemed never to run out of new sounds, combining instrumental choirs in novel ways, making for never a dull moment. And the novelty never seemed to lack expressive purpose. Each line had somewhere to go and something to say. The complexity of the work did not allow me to fully understand its message in a single hearing, but promised richer rewards if we ever get to hear it again.

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra realized these sonic adventures with apparent ease under DePreist's clear baton. Balances with the solo cello were mostly well executed. While I can't speak to Stock's skill in writing for the cello, the effect was expressive and seemed to fall easily under Joshua Roman's fingers and bow. The soloist seemed to cherish the work. His winning appearance (looking less like a teenager, now with shorter hair) and superb musicianship, along with the merits of the work itself, brought a rousing reception from the audience. I hope he champions the piece as future occasions allow in his promising career.

Roman rewarded us with an encore: the "Prelude" to the 'Suite No. 1' of J. S. Bach, played with gorgeous lyricism. It was an immensely satisfying morsel.

Rachmaninov's 'Symphonic Dances, Op. 45' filled the second half with the final and one of the composer's finest works. Full of orchestral beauties and well defined moods, it cast its spell. The orchestra seemed well rehearsed and eager to paint the many colors of the three-movement set of dances. DePreist gave it a fine sweep and seemed in tune with its emotional content.

James DePreist is currently the permanent conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and director of conducting and orchestral studies at The Julliard School. He is also Laureate Music Director of the Oregon Symphony. He does all this despite being confined to a motored wheelchair, one that allows him to rise a foot or two so as to be more easily seen by the players. Based on this evening's performance, I would welcome him back to Seattle any time.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.
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