The Princeton Symphony Orchestra recently opened its new season with a Happy 100th Birthday to Leonard Bernstein. The venue was Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton University campus.
To honor the composer/conductor/performer/educator, PSO artistic director and conductor Rossen Milanov prepared a program that both challenged the orchestra and delighted the audience.
Musical selections drew from Bernstein’s contributions to Broadway rather than his symphonic works, and the PSO played each charismatic piece with energy and precision.
Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town” started off the program like a shot of adrenaline. Next on the program was “West Side Story Suite for Violin and Orchestra,” a collection of that show’s beloved melodies presented in an arrangement written expressly for a virtuoso.
PSO’s guest solo violinist Daniel Rowland was up to this difficult work, a showcase for his brilliant and subtle playing.
Rowland explored the highest range of his vintage instrument with playing that was soft, delicate, and exacting at the same time. The PSO’s strings supported the soloist ever so quietly, accented by the harp and marimba.
Further along, Rowland fashioned a breathtaking solo around “Somewhere,” as slowly, slowly the orchestra joined him in a rousing finale to the piece.
The second half of the program centered around the 1956 operetta “Candide,” Bernstein’s setting of Voltaire’s 18th-century novel. The overture featured fast-paced, syncopated calisthenics for overall orchestra, but especially the solo piccolo and other woodwinds.
The ensemble simply sped forward like a well-oiled machine, never slowing down for a millisecond during this musical workout.
Milanov paused to recognize his superb musicians after this selection, just before guest soprano Meghan Picerno appeared.
Wearing a white lace and tulle dress, Picerno came onstage as the flirtatious character Cunegonde. Her attire was accented by hints of sparkle, appropriate for the famous and elaborate aria “Glitter and Be Gay.”
The guest vocalist skipped around the stage, down into the audience to tease a few folks in the front row, then up again, all the while singing of champagne, pearls, and ruby rings with her splendid sound and thorough control of this intricate piece.
One high note seemed to take off into outer space, as Picerno “mugged” orchestra members for their “bling,” even reaching for a tiara Milanov waved about.
The afternoon of music closed with the rigorous “Candide” Suite. A variety of dance styles are celebrated in this work, and we heard elements of American jazz, tango from south of the border, and folk dances from Europe.
There was a thunderous transition, like a change in seasons, as the French horn introduced a softer, middle section, evocative of young Stravinsky. The suite ended with the poignant melody, “Make Our Garden Grow.”
The Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s 2018-2019 Classical Series continues at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium on Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28, with guest soloist Inon Barnatan performing the five Beethoven Piano Concertos. Marcelo Lehninger conducts. $28 to $96. 609-497-0020 or www.princetonsymphony.org.