Saturday at the California Theatre, Glover led Symphony Silicon Valley through a delicious, season-ending program that danced, sang and contained numerous victory shouts. It was grand entertainment, cleverly conceived in that each piece looked back toward the one that followed.
The retrograde succession worked like this: 20th-century Prokofiev paid homage to Haydn; 19th-century Tchaikovsky showed off his love of Mozart; 18th-century Haydn displayed his debt toward Handel. But, throwing things off a little, Papa Joe's "Lord Nelson Mass" — which added an 80-voice chorus and soloists to the orchestra — looked forward to Beethoven's heroics, too.
Leading this journey through the musical continuum, Glover seemed to be tailoring an elegant suit of clothes. Her gestures drew each stitch — each note and phrase — just so, while minding the cut, the shape, the flare of the overall performance. Bit by bit, she drew the players into this expanding exercise, this collaboration.
The program (which repeated Sunday) began with Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1, known as the "Classical Symphony" because it is modeled after Haydn. Not only with its layout — the sonata form of the first and last movements — but with its lilt and charm.
Those en-pointe dancing details, in other words, which Glover accentuated in the opening Allegro, before shaping the serenade-like Larghetto with fine restraint, then letting Prokofiev have his gleaming, mischievous way in the Gavotta.
Starting out, Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings" wasn't so cleanly played; string attacks were off at the beginnings of phrases. In the waltzing second movement, there is a recurring passage where the violins arc up in a quizzical turn; here, Glover tried for an elasticity of tempo, a sense of freedom and suspension that the players weren't giving her.
Then, suddenly, the performance changed.
A listener could feel it coalesce in the third movement, an elegy: drenching colors, even at low volume; the controlled sluicing of emotion; the outpouring of aria-like melody from the violins, nurtured by pizzicato in the low strings. With the piece moving toward its end, the orchestra whispered and murmured — seriously good playing, a religious hush, the night's best moments.
Not that the "Lord Nelson Mass," grand culmination of the orchestra's seventh season, wasn't worth staying for after intermission. Originally titled "Missa in Angustiis (Mass for Troubled Times)," this piece, inspired by Handel's dramatic oratorios, was composed during the Napoleonic Wars and retroactively titled to honor British Admiral Horatio Nelson, Bonaparte's nemesis.
What a spectacle: the orchestra, the massed singers of the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, and four soloists, including celebrated soprano Christine Brandes. At its best, the performance delivered a triumphal wallop, hinting, with its many moving parts, at the celestial machinery Haydn had in mind. The Chorale, directed by Elena Sharkova, was especially spirited, with a sparkling, blended sound.
Given limited rehearsal time and the numbers involved, it's remarkable that the performance came together as effectively as it did. As a whole, it didn't quite breathe: too many moving parts. Some of the soloists seemed nervous or unable to hear one another. Even Brandes, whose voice is like a satin ribbon, took a few moments to settle down.
Still, no risk, no gain. Music fans in the nation's 10th-largest city should start lining up for season number eight.