By Márcio Bezerra
After a disappointing cancelation last year, the audiences of the Palm Beaches finally were able to hear the esteemed Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires perform with the Palm Beach Symphony.
The ensemble — completely reinvented since the arrival of Music Director Gerard Schwarz — presented its last performance of the season Monday night to an unusually packed house at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
The program opened with American composer Adolphus Hailstork’s Monuments for solo trombone and string orchestra, featuring trombone principal Domingo Pagliuca. Written in 2022, Monuments is a well-written, expressive work reminiscent of Shostakovich. It received a sensitive performance by Pagliuca, who confirmed his position as one of South Florida’s most accomplished brass players. The strings performed their part with remarkably good intonation and Schwarz is to be thanked for including new American works in the symphony’s repertoire. This is how culture progresses and our musical horizons expand.
The second half of the program featured César Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Written in 1888, it became a neglected work as the 20th century progressed. Too bad, because it is a well-written, beautiful piece and one should be happy that the Palm Beach Symphony has programmed it for the first time in its history.
It was certainly worth the wait: Under Schwarz, the ensemble gave a balanced reading, in which the overall architecture of this cyclical work was made clear. The brass section was particularly impressive; the climaxes were forcefully achieved, but always in context and never overpowering the strings.
The real wait (and slight frustration) was finally over, however, with the arrival of Maria João Pires on the stage of Dreyfoos Hall for a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s delightful Piano Concerto No. 23 (in A major, K. 488).
As the foremost Mozart interpreter of our age, Pires did not disappoint. Her absolute control of phrasing could be heard from the first to the last note she played. Her declamation of the initial solo in the second movement was of a musical level seldom heard on these shores: Intense but at the same time subdued. Finally, her rhythmic drive carried away the orchestra players to a higher level in the finale.
All of this done with a humble, unassuming stage presence that puts the music ahead of the performer’s personality. It was if we were not hearing Pires or Mozart himself, but the very essence of the master’s musical thoughts.
Of course, moments as those are not chance achievements, and one needs to congratulate the staff of Palm Beach Symphony for a work well done. The orchestra is one of few ensembles in today’s classical music world to have come out of the pandemic in a stronger position than it was before.
One can only look forward to the Palm Beach Symphony’s 50th season beginning in November. Under the leadership of Gerard Schwarz, the future looks bright.