At last night’s Eugene Symphony concert, the affable Pavel Baleff, guest conductor for the evening, took the orchestra on a stately journey through three musical war horses: Schubert’s eighth symphony, the “Unfinished”; Samuel Barber’s violin concerto; and Mozart’s 41st symphony, the “Jupiter.”
Baleff has the friendly virtue of looking very much like a conductor should look, on some archetypal level: longish gray hair and an animated presence on the podium marked by sinuous movements. As the concert opened with the Schubert, it was clear he was in command of his musical forces, coaxing from the players a solid, well shaped and classical sound, if one that was not particularly punctuated by drama or flair.
The Schubert, being unfinished, wrapped up in two movements, warming up the orchestra and the audience for the real star of the evening, the orchestra’s own concert master, Searmi Park, who would appear as soloist for the Samuel Barber violin concerto.
Park launched into the Barber a bit carefully. A soloist should, in a sense, try to take charge of the concert from the conductor, and during the first movement Park seemed to be simply another section player following Baleff’s direction.
But gradually she warmed to the music, and by the concerto’s third movement Park was playing with passion and fire that clearly touched the audience, who loved her – and loved the shy little boy whose job it was the deliver the violinist an onstage bouquet during the applause.
Mozart’s “Jupiter” followed intermission. Again, Baleff turned in a fine if not terribly moving performance. There was not a sloppy passage anywhere in the familiar symphony, but not a lot of fire, either, and he ended the evening overshadowed by Park’s musical verve.