Sunday, January 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 ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

TAMPA — Many times during Sinfonietta, Leoš Janácek’s notoriously difficult but joyous work, it was impossible for a regular patron of the Florida Orchestra to escape this observation: They have never sounded quite like this.This isn’t to say musicia...
Published: 01/20/18
‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

CLEARWATER — From the moment the title character takes center stage, Mike Hammer — Encore for Murder is sold. Rarely does one actor own an entire production the way Gary Sandy owns this world premiere, and it’s a pleasure at watch, in large measure t...
Published: 01/19/18
Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

ST. PETERSBURG An air compressor did most of the talking as the small crew stapled down flooring to the stage. A master carpenter kept unskilled but eager workers on track, telling them where to line up edges. An astringent smell of glue permeated t...
Published: 01/18/18
What’s on stage this week: Riverdance, ‘Mike Hammer,’ ‘The Tempest’

What’s on stage this week: Riverdance, ‘Mike Hammer,’ ‘The Tempest’

RIVERDANCE AT 20: CIARA SEXTONShe’s a former world champion in Irish dance, and now Ciara Sexton, center, is leading Riverdance in Tampa. A lead dancer and soloist with the troupe, Sexton said she has felt comfortable touring the states."What really ...
Published: 01/17/18
Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

It’s barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds they’d be back."We thought — and I seriously mean this — we’ve got to play Florida more." Martin said in a pho...
Published: 01/17/18
Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

By JULIE GARISTOTimes CorrespondentTAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Gnit strikes gold for theatergoers who appreciate deadpan wit, clever wordplay and incisive commentary on the human condition.First produced in 2013, the retread of a Scandinavian c...
Published: 01/16/18
Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

HUDSON —If you saw the musical Pippin when it first hit Broadway in 1972, or a high school drama club version, or even a touring company rendition a decade ago, it’s not exactly the Pippin you’ll see if you’re wise enough to go see the spectacular mo...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/18/18
Review: Richey Suncoast’s I Hate Hamlet worth shouting about

Review: Richey Suncoast’s I Hate Hamlet worth shouting about

NEW PORT RICHEY — Many years ago I lived near New Orleans, and one of my favorite pastimes was to put my son in his stroller and saunter up and down the streets of the Vieux Carre.But Bourbon Street in the late afternoon was our favorite. Back then, ...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/18/18
A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

MIAMI — The idea seemed outlandish, maybe even impossible at the time: a one-man play about Miami’s infamous Cocaine Cowboys of the 1980s. Some 15 years ago, the Miami-raised Billy Corben was deep into research for what would become Coca...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/16/18
With Zev Buffman at the creative end, Ruth Eckerd Hall brings Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer to the stage

With Zev Buffman at the creative end, Ruth Eckerd Hall brings Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer to the stage

An actor famous for playing a radio station manager will star this week in the world premiere of a radio play.Mike Hammer: Encore for Murder brings Gary Sandy, who played Andy Travis on WKRP in Cincinnati, to Ruth Eckerd Hall. And the star power was ...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18