Thursday, June 21, 2018
Stage

Jahja Ling and his pianist wife, Jessie Chang, delight with Sibelius and Beethoven

TAMPA — With a genial wave and a smile, the Florida Orchestra’s second music director greeted a Tampa Bay audience, the kind he used to see over 14 seasons. By the time Jahja Ling left the area in 2002, the orchestra had more than found its footing. On Friday he conducted Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, a piece of personal significance.

In the early 1980s, Ling conducted the San Francisco Symphony’s youth orchestra in that symphony to enduring raves. In 1985 he debuted with the Cleveland Orchestra, again with the Sibelius No. 2, the start of a 30-year relationship. And in 1987, his mastery of the symphony brought out the best in a struggling Florida Orchestra that was looking for a new music director, a performance that led to his being hired the next year.

The musicians quickly stood and applauded when Ling took the podium, then settled down to play the Overture to Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber, a seminal figure in early German Romantic opera. Dominated by the strings, that racing interplay of dancelike rhythms with dramatic, even spiritual overtones, set the stage for what was to come.

The Sibelius took up the concert’s second half, a 45-minute interval considered so sacred ushers had been instructed not to seat stragglers returning late from intermission. It is a complex, magnificent work, open to a wide range of interpretations including Finnish nationalism and a hymn to the soul’s longing. (In a recent interview with the Times, Ling said he did not think "you can put it in one category or the other; it is a mixture of a lot of things," touching on folklore and the composer’s sentimental feelings about his homeland, even its cold weather.)

The orchestra established its opening themes quickly, heavy on the bassoons and clarinet. A segmented structure ushered in the modern world the composer was entering in 1901, even as its urgent questioning tones hinted at the Romantic era he was leaving. Out of this nontraditional form emerges unpredictability and tension, an anaconda snatching an animal and dragging it underwater. The second movement begins with tympani and plucked bass strings before the undulation begins anew, this time with a full orchestra. Horns enter strategically, the pace picks up until lovely floating lines of trumpet and oboe solos briefly slow it down. The orchestra is fully engaged to its widest range of expression, as if balancing nuanced messages with a carnal, primitive need.

That intensity only increases through four movements, slowing down at one point to an audible, percussive heartbeat, then growing in new segments that somehow seem more connected, coming together as earlier themes re-emerge. Meanwhile Ling is turning dials in the air, he is drawing sine waves around his knees that turn into figure eights. At one moment, he begs the brass for more, as if holding ice cubes he is anxious to get rid of; the next he is a calm emcee, asking the oboe to say a few words. It is all exhausting to watch, and thrilling.

In between the von Weber and the Sibelius came Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a little gem that nicely offset the grandeur of the second half. Pianist Jessie Chang, the concert soloist and Ling’s wife, coaxed and caressed every note out of countless exuberant runs. The only down note came in the nearly three-minute opening before the piano started, during which the orchestra sounded subdued to the point of introversion. It is more than possible to imagine a fuller, more assertive sound that in no way steals limelight from the soloist if that was a concern; these are, after all, the opening words of a musical thesis. Nonetheless it soon regained its form to complement Chang, who was magnificent throughout. Her timing is exquisite, so much so that you can hear the silences between her keystrokes, visible by their calibration and exact equivalence to the notes on either side. She sailed through an allegro, executing brisk passages with a masterful expression, braking proportionally as the orchestra grew around her like a gathering wave. She came to something close to a fermata, the pace neared a pause and the conductor turned his head to lock eyes.

She gave a slight nod, her husband brought down his baton, and she was off on another cascade.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

SENDUP: MUSICAL OF MUSICALSFive composers, a talented cast, choreography by Cheryl Lee and music directed by Michael Raabe — that’s Freefall Theatre’s recipe for a laugh-filled, season-ending summer musical, appropriately titled The Musical of Musica...
Published: 06/20/18
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Published: 06/19/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

OPENING: DANCING AT LUGHNASAIrish playwright Brian Friel, who died in 2015 at 86, won’t be traveling anymore. But I’ll bet he packed a tidy suitcase. Dancing at Lughnasa, Jobsite Theater’s season closer, manages to address a lot of issues: race, reli...
Published: 06/13/18
Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall rolls out a new lineup of musicals for its 2018-19 season, a mix of comedy, favorite musicals and romance."For the last 35 years, Broadway has always been a staple at Ruth Eckerd Hall," chief executive officer Zev Buffman said in a p...
Published: 06/12/18
A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment. The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in O...
Published: 06/11/18
Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

SIKESTON, Mo. — Neal Boyd, an opera singer who won America’s Got Talent and dabbled in Missouri politics, has died. Scott County Coroner Scott Amick says Boyd died around 6 p.m. Sunday at his mother’s house in Sikeston. He was 42. Amick says Boyd had...
Published: 06/11/18
Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s drama team stole the show at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.The performance brought the crowd— many of whom were wiping tears from their eyes— to its collective feet at the Radio City Music ...
Published: 06/11/18