Conductor, horn soloist bring verve to festive Miami Symphony program

By Lawrence Budmen

Gemma New conducted the Miami Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

Gemma New conducted the Miami Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at Gusman Concert Hall.

Horn soloists are a rarity at symphony concerts. When the instrument has been featured, the concertos of Mozart and Richard Strauss are the usual repertoire choices.

Hector Rodriguez, principal horn of the Miami Symphony Orchestra, explored less familiar terrain with romantic vignettes by Saint-Saens and Franz Strauss at the orchestra’s “Valentine Fiesta” concert Saturday night. With a colorful impressionistic tone painting by Ravel and crowd pleasers by Prokofiev and Gershwin, the program at Gusman Concert Hall proved festive indeed and a fine showcase for Rodriguez and guest conductor Gemma New.

Rodriguez, whose teachers include former Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal horn Dale Clevenger, performs regularly in first chair or utility positions with orchestras in Chicago, Tokyo, Florence and the Dominican Republic as well as the Miami Symphony.  He produces a large, voluminous sonority from the instrument while maintaining an unbroken musical line, seemingly hardly taking a breath. Opening with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise in an inventive arrangement by Raul Rodriguez, Rodriguez captured the score’s sentimental lyricism. Even when he muted his instrument to produce a leaner sound, his tone remained rich and beautiful.

Saint-Saens’ Romance frames a Gallic horn melody with an underpinning of plucked strings. Although the solo writing often lay in the horn’s highest register, Rodriguez played with accuracy and musicality, never falling out of tune. In Strauss’s Nocturno, Rodriguez’s finely shaded dynamics and full, luminous tone winningly spun the work’s noble, long span of melody.  The horn calls in the central episode and melodic writing foretell the two concertos to come by the composer’s famous son Richard Strauss.

Assistant conductor of the New Jersey Symphony, the New Zealand-born New has studied with Kurt Masur and Gustav Meier.  Her clear beat and enthusiasm charged up the Miami Symphony’s crackling brass and percussion sections. She conveyed the irony and sarcasm of the “March and Scherzo” from Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges.  New underlined often overlooked instrumental details, the rapid runs of the two harps in the scherzo particularly lucid.

She achieved a wonderful sense of ebb and flow in Ravel’s orchestral version of Une Barque Sur L’ocean from his keyboard suite Miroirs.  Sound waves of winds, trumpet and swirling strings vividly evoked the boat churning on the ocean waves. New also conveyed Ravel’s misty and evocative impressionistic timbres.

Robert Russell Bennett’s Symphonic Picture of Porgy and Bess was once an orchestral standard but seems to have fallen off the radar as productions of Gershwin’s American opera have become more numerous.

From the opening trumpet and saxophone playing the peddler’s cries to the closing jazzy version of “I’m On My Way,” Bennett’s masterful suite is more than just a medley but a true symphonic portrait. With the ensemble playing at  peak form, New conjured up the frightening intensity of the hurricane music and brought gusto and snap to the banjo-inflected “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” the final chords bringing cheers from the audience.

The Miami Symphony Orchestra repeats the program 8 p.m. Sunday at New World Center in Miami Beach. 305-272-5666;

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Conductor, horn soloist bring verve to festive Miami Symphony program”

  1. Posted Feb 17, 2014 at 12:59 pm by Rita Kronheim

    I am very proud to be a part of the Miami Symphony Orchestra as they have grown so much in the past few years .The Orchestra is at a very high level of talent.

  2. Posted Feb 18, 2014 at 2:57 am by Carole Blake

    Well done to Gemma New,who has achieved so much in a short time,and is an inspiration to all young people! Her family and friends must be so proud of her achievements.

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