In the universe of concertos, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is the piano concerto of piano concertos.
It is in your face and boisterous and dramatic and loud. It is insistent — then gentle — and ultimately glorious with pools of melodious beauty, its nuggets of glittering, pretty grandeur mesmerizing.
And what pianist Joyce Yang does with this piano concerto of piano concertos is breathtakingly spectacular.
From those opening crashes of piano chords, relentlessly pounding and stomping up and down the keyboard, along with that waltzing Russian folk dance via orchestra softening all that drama, Yang was in command with impeccable technique and remained so throughout the 35-minute work.
It was a stupendous way to open the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season Saturday night at Memorial Auditorium, the concert unfolding under the direction of Darryl One of the Victoria (Texas) Symphony Orchestra.
One is among three finalists vying to be named the symphony’s new conductor. He helmed an inspired concert buzzing with energy, as musicians seemed to read one another, moved together and played off each other like they hadn’t in some time.
One also brought much texture to the orchestra, really varying each composition by greatly contrasting the highs against the lows. He also exhibited a great rapport with the audience, particularly when explaining the convoluted, comedy of errors plot that is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” during the final composition of the night.
But the night really was guest artist Yang’s.
Her strength is her steadfast technique and all the passion and drama she demands of herself in the Tchaikovsky piece. Her finger work and dexterity during the incredible runs up and down the keyboard were amazing.
Not that crashing notes are all to expect from the young pianist, just 19 when she was named a Van Cliburn silver medalist. Yang brings those notes down to a whisper with such skill and dips down into those low notes with conviction.
In an interview before the concert, she spoke of having to not forget her metronome work, and she is a master of that, pulling the orchestra with her in the piece’s rhythmic directions.
The orchestra wasn’t lost in all Yang’s pianistic fire, however.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is peppered with plenty of shining moments for the orchestra, which starts off the work with perhaps the most well- known opening notes of any classical work except maybe for Beethoven’s Fifth.
The orchestra shined the most, however, in the opening work, James Beckel’s “The American Dream” from “Night Visions.”
The WFSO found the joyousness in this piece, which sang at the top of its lungs with a lightness, joviality and jauntiness.
Kudos to the French horns, which were so plucky. They formed a little corner of upbeat.
With the horns going, tambourines and triangles piping in, and the strings, too, every section of the orchestra busied itself, all sections aware of one another.
Usually, it takes the WFSO a little while to warm up. Not the case this time, as the musicians were all in and firing on all cylinders from the beginning.
This was a strong showing that left you happy at the end.
The evening ended with Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Although a fine work, this was not the composition to end the night with; it couldn’t compare to Yang and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Hands down, the concerto was the strongest piece of the evening.
Still, the orchestra did get to show its prowess once again, as this sprightly work evoked images of fairies and magic.
What was particularly amazing was the orchestra’s punctuation in the scherzo, emphasizing this note and that one and separating those notes from the rest. Brilliant.
And the zippy, nimble bowing by the strings would have made Shakespeare proud.
Although Memorial Auditorium’s loud air conditioner wasn’t as distracting as it has been at past concerts, it’s still a shame to hear it buzzing away in the background during some of the concert’s quieter moments.
Except for a couple of brass notes that weren’t as crisp as they could have been during the piano concerto, and except for choosing to end the night with a work that wasn’t the strongest of the three, Saturday’s season opener was joyful and the most impressive opening the WFSO has had in some time.
The next concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 will feature cellist Julie Albers.