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March 19, 2008 (Review of "Simple Gifts")

Tony the Tuba
Symphony Silicon Valley tubist Tony Clements starred in solo turn on Vaughan Williams' Bass Tuba Concerto

Scott McClelland, Metro News
Guest conductor Sara Jobin, who has made some attention-getting strides in her young career, gave Symphony Silicon Valley a clean-cut and precise figure to follow on Sunday afternoon.  The symphony, in turn, gave her briskly confident readings of tricky scores by Copland and Richard Strauss. Between them, the orchestrra's principal tubist since 1981, Tony Clements --"Tony the Tuba" to his colleague -- ambled his way through Vaughan Williams' concise Bass Tuba Concerto in F Minor.  If Clements' playing was a tad ungainly, that only underscored the character of the piece and the challenge to its always hyperventilating player.  Draining his four removable joints of condensation between movments sent a giggle through the audience. In the end, it was Clements who gave the afternoon its take-home personality. While it was easy to admire her, you had to love him.

Unlike its fellow brass, the tuba didn't make its appearance on the scene until well after the valve was perfected in the seccond decade of the 19th century.  Composers for the enlarging Romantic orchestra, like Wagner, welcomed its profound timbre, trombonelike with hints of horn...Vaughn Williams sought the soul of the instrument in his one-off concerto, thoughtfully expressive in its centra Romanza, cavorting with amazing facility in the outrer movements, each of those sporting a solo cadenza.  The orchestra, while not large, gets a surprising range of well-considered and developed ideas, here all articulated with clarity and impressive flourish.

Returning for a second bow, Clements encored the "audition" piece that proved to be his brass ring, Debussy's Syrinx, written for solo flute.  (He recalled playing it for the French flutist, Jean-Pierre Rampal, who hated it, he said, adding "When a tuba player can disgruntle a flute player, we know we are on the right track.") The piece sounded splendid, if relatively on steroids.

Jobin opened her program with Appalachian Spring, its scenic episodes all in fresh verdure like our hillsides just now.  The playing was vivid and articulate, its complex rhythms and scoring precise and assured (as we have been spoiled to expect).  The matinee's second half went to Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel and the concert suite after Der Rosenkavalier cobbled together by Antal Dorati...Till contains such a breathtaking display of images and jokes, in full flight, that one is forced to choke back laughter so as not to miss anything.  This reading dazzled, certainly warranting the individual and section bows Jobin asked the players to take.

Even in its perfection, Rosenkavalier's swooning themes and other-worldly orchestrations mask the master manipulator behind the curtain.  There are times when a musician is more aptly described as a magician, and this is one of them.  That said, the performance sure looked pretty and felt good.

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