Festival Miami opens with exciting Beethoven and Brahms

By David Fleshler

Tian Ying

A brilliant, exuberant performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 on Friday marked the first night of Festival Miami, the traditional start of the South Florida concert season.

 The 29-day music series organized by the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music will bring several guest jazz performers to Miami. This year, for the classical events, Frost is drawing almost entirely on its own resources. But opening night at Gusman Hall, that resulted in surprisingly polished and mature performances of Brahms, Beethoven and Schumann by the student musicians of the Frost Symphony Orchestra.

At the keyboard for the Beethoven work, was Tian Ying, chairman of the Frost School’s piano faculty and a musician with apparently flawless technical equipment. With due respect to the concerto’s occasional dark moments, this is one of those extroverted, major-key works that makes you feel good to be alive, and Ying gave a sweeping, exciting performance.

 Ying’s Beethoven was not always delicate but the Fifth Concerto isn’t Chopin either. He played the concerto without a trace of effort and a percussive, emphatic touch, that had just enough rubato without allowing the work to lose energy. The orchestra, under Frost’s conducting professor Thomas Sleeper, provided a skillful accompaniment that reveled in the concerto’s energy and power.

Thomas Sleeper

 In the second half, the young musicians tackled Brahms’ craggy, cerebral Symphony No. 1. From the solemn opening ascent of strings over the steady beat of the timpani, they played with the interpretive unity of a good string quartet, in a headlong, hard-driving performance. Sleeper drew maximum tension from the dark, ominous passages, so the climaxes came as moments of great release. He kept youthful exuberance under control, never allowing the musicians’ enthusiasm to produce harsh tones, husbanding the orchestra’s resources so that it always could ratchet the power higher.

 Although no one would mistake the ensemble for a professional orchestra, the musicians had clearly practiced hard and rehearsed well. There were excellent solos in the horn, flute, clarinet and violin. The entrance of the brass choir in the last movement, one of the symphony’s great moments, came off with a gorgeous, refined, well-balanced tone.  

Zoe Zeniodi

Zoe Zeniodi

The concert opened not with Sleeper on the podium but his conducting student, Zoe Zeniodi, in Schumann’s rarely heard Faust Overture. She skillfully brought out the work’s mood changes, at one moment sinister, at another playful. The concert showed what satisfying performances can come from a well-drilled student orchestra with the right people on the podium.

 Festival Miami runs through Oct. 30. For tickets and information, call 305-284-4940 or go to www.festivalmiami.com.

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Festival Miami opens with exciting Beethoven and Brahms”

  1. Posted Oct 03, 2009 at 11:40 pm by JACK SLEEPER

    Great writeup. Makes you sorry that you were not there.

  2. Posted Oct 04, 2009 at 12:19 pm by Betty James

    U Miami is very fortunate to have Zoe as a conductor, she will go far in her future.

  3. Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 10:46 am by Betty Boop

    “Ying’s Beethoven was not always delicate…” That’s P.C. Let me try…”Ying has the rare ability to make even the darkest of Steinways seem as though it were made of 100% glass.”

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Sat Oct 3, 2009
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