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Strike Up the Band

[whitespace] Denise Djokic Cello Shots: Cellist Denise Djokic performed a virtually flawless set with the SC Symphony.

The Santa Cruz Symphony prevails through an almost-strike by musicians for a mostly thrilling performance

By Scott MacClelland

IN A DISPUTE over a wage adjustment, the musicians of the Santa Cruz County Symphony were prepared to go on strike, just three days before last Saturday's concert at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Fortunately the board of directors blinked first, and John Larry Granger's band of musicians took the stage on schedule.

But a possible strike wasn't the only cliffhanger. Granger positioned the toughest piece on the program first, challenging the orchestra to become an ensemble in the treacherous first movement of Brahms' Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90. It was obvious that Granger knew the score well, but the musicians found themselves scrambling to fall in with one another and, in one passage toward the end, noticeably falling out.

The unfriendly acoustics at the Civic Auditorium forgave none of the sharp edges and angles disclosed during the opening of the Brahms piece, but they did intensify listener expectations. While this may not be the most desirable way to grab attention, it certainly did just that in the end. And the musicians themselves did create plenty of energy and excitement, sound and fury. By running this gauntlet, they also completed their concert preparation.

From that point on, the sailing was much smoother. Brahms' design came into focus and Granger's interpretive ideas gained clarity. The haunting inhaling/exhaling theme of the third movement, poco allegretto, hung in the mind even after the blustering finale.

The following two works, Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto in A Minor and Rimsky-Korsakov's colorful Russian Easter, were also quite smooth. The soloist in the concerto, 17-year-old Denise Djokic, "blew away the competition," according to one witness at the Irving M. Klein String Competition last spring in San Francisco, where Djokic competed and won. Indeed, the young woman played with bold assertiveness and virtually flawless technique. However, she needs to raise her dynamic compass when she appears with an orchestra in a large room. Several of her softer passages were audible to only those audience members close to the stage, and at times she was wholly swallowed by the symphonic context.

Although not a terribly difficult piece, the strength of Rimsky's Russian Easter lies in its orchestral display. The composer subjects a handful of liturgical themes to variations--color variations, that is, since they are modified otherwise only slightly, and the work's architecture remains static. With many vivacious solos and Granger's command of propulsion and dynamics, however, the orchestra delivered thrills and even flattered the room itself.

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From the November 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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