No one can accuse Ron Spigelman of lacking enthusiasm for his job.
Spigelman, the Tulsa Symphony’s principal Pops conductor, was on the podium Saturday night at the Tulsa PAC for the orchestra’s second classics concert of the season, which had as its program a trio of highly atmospheric, orchestrally rich works.
It was during the first piece of the evening, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol,” a work full of Spanish dance rhythms and Gypsy melodies, that Spigelman got so caught up in the spirit of the music that, as he was vigorously guiding the orchestra through a particularly rousing passage during the slam-bang finale, Spigelman’s baton went sailing out of his hand.
Fortunately for all and sundry, the baton landed harmlessly on the stage apron between the players and the audience – rather than, say, impaling a hapless violist – and Spigelman and the orchestra finished the piece without a break in concentration.
Spigelman later joked that “Never Drop Your Baton” was one of the top three rules of being a conductor, and he kept a tighter grip on things for the remainder of the evening.
Spigelman has worked with the Tulsa Symphony pretty much since inception, and it was obvious in this performance that he has established an excellent rapport with the musicians, who throughout the evening gave polished, passionate performances of compositions designed to show off the orchestra as a whole and as individuals.
The Rimsky-Korsakov, for example, is something of a “sinfonia concertante,” an ensemble piece that make constant use of solos by individual instruments – in this instance, concertmaster Rossitza Goza and principal clarinet David Carter in a spirited dialogue, principal horn Bruce Schultz, principal cello Kari Caldwell, and principal flute John Rush-Willingham, to name the most prominent.
Next came a variation of Mozart’s Serenade No. 9, known as the “Posthorn” for its use of that antiquated instrument. What was performed Saturday was four movements from the Serenade that were renamed the “Posthorn” Symphony – the jaunty first movement, the melancholy fifth, the titular sixth, which featured principal trumpet Timothy McFadden performing the posthorn part and a piccolo solo by Dana Higbee, and the finale.
The evening closed with Debussy’s “Images,” a piece which takes a variety of dance rhythms and treats them to this composer’s unique way with orchestration. The section titled “Gigue” begins with an almost otherworldly, diaphanous wash of sound that builds and swirls until an explosion of sharply energetic sound that comes as close to replicating the lively nature of a traditional jig, before the music subsides back into those tendrils of melody.
The long mid-section, “Iberia,” recalled some of the Spanish fire of Rimsky-Korsakov’s piece, with a slow middle section, “Les parfums de la nuit,” that contained passages that called to mind snippets of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Spigelman mentioned that Leonard Bernstein would often perform this section of the piece last, as audiences tended to respond to its boisterous finale with applause.
Saturday night, the audience did applaud that moment, but justifiable saved its heartily ovation for the piece’s true finale, which was as rousing a conclusion to this evening as one might want.