The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik on Thursday gave their audience an evening of hybrids -- an ear-catching fusion of classical, jazz, and Latin American music styles -- with strong dance overtones in each composition. The success of that mixture depended entirely on which piece was being played.
For Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla's "Tangazo," during which the orchestra was joined by four Rochester City Ballet soloists, the performance was exceedingly well-balanced. Piazzolla's melodic phrases, subtle ornamentation, and coy tango allure require a distinct finesse -- and Tyzik's approach combined classical gravitas and suave Latin style to great effect. Equipped with the elegant and acrobatic choreography of Jamey Leverettn -- a frequent Tyzik collaborator -- the connection between music and movement felt natural.
"Danzón No. 2" by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez was characterized by a palpable buoyancy. The collective orchestral sound was an indication that the musicians hadn't simply gotten Márquez's vital rhythms into their fingers, but really it was in their entire bodies. It gave the music a true "dance essence."
The same, though, cannot be said of every work on the program. Where the RPO hit the mark in the previously mentioned pieces, it fell short on beloved American composer Leonard Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances" from "West Side Story."
The orchestra's dynamics were vivid and captivating, and its articulations appropriately pungent when necessary, but overall, the interpretation lacked the swing and playful groove that was so prevalent in the music's film version. The vibrancy of Bernstein's sweeping, cinematic gestures were diminished by a safe, "museum piece" interpretation. At times, the tempo needed more urgency, and Tyzik's conducting emphasized the straight beat rather than leaning into the piece's juicy syncopations. The "Mambo" section was the performance's saving grace, as the players laid into the rhythms with fiery gusto.
The evening closed with the world premiere performance of Tyzik's "Jazz Concerto for Violin and Orchestra," written for RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde. When it comes to wedding jazz and classical, the violin was the ideal solo instrument. Of course, the violin's rich timbre is already a cornerstone of an orchestra, but it is also versatile enough to convincingly communicate different stylistic moods.
Athayde's exquisite expressiveness on the violin was tailor-made for Tyzik's mercurial music -- and vice versa. Through fluid transitions from blues scale slides and "cool jazz" phrases to exacting, late-Romantic runs, the Athayde made them sound effortless. The composer and performer clearly have an excellent creative rapport. Tyzik's writing for the violin was intelligent, and had a homespun Americana vibe -- at times, delightful bits of country and bluegrass fit right into the bluesy jazz accompaniment (provided by a quartet: bassist Jeff Campbell, drummer Eric Metzgar, pianist John Nyerges, and guitarist Bob Sneider).
The cleverness of the Tyzik's writing was particularly evident in the beginning of the last movement, "Burn." Athayde's extensive solo introduction wouldn't have been out of place in a concerto by Paganini or even Dvořák, but when the violinist was joined by the quartet and orchestra, the musical context suddenly shifted to a brisk, lively New Orleans jazz style. The compatibility of the solo and the orchestration demonstrated the kindred spirits of classical and jazz, and made for a fitting conclusion to the concert.
Pianist Yuja Wang on Thursday and Saturday broke into Bartok and helped the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra reach new heights.