Was this a musical or a festive occasion? Ideally it should be both. Except, however, for Venzago’s wonderfully executed concluding selection — Ravel’s famous-to-infamous Bolero of 1928, the preceding pieces mostly offered more hijinks than a real music experience. Though it has been the ISO’s practice to feature light-veined works for their recent Galas, this one stepped too close to being vapid — unlike last year’s, in which Venzago offered more substantial fare, capped with a Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue galvanized by Naida Cole’s brilliant piano work.
Venzago began with the evening’s second most interesting offering: John Corigliano’s 1981 Promenade Overture, a piece which starts with an empty stage, the various instrument groups entering-while-playing — one by one, till we acquire the full orchestral complement — save one tuba player, who snuck onto the upper stage at the overture’s final measures. This bit of hijinks was musically effective.
Now that the stage was filled, Venzago could officially herald the 2004-’05 classical music season with our National Anthem. Following which, he did a rather routine account of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65 — as orchestrated by Berlioz. Charles Gounod’s inane Ballet Music from his opera Faust followed. No lyric or dramatic tension — hence nothing to resolve, the stormy final section slightly excepted. This music needs choreography to make it work.
Nor was Johann Strauss Jr.’s Champagne Polka, with excessively interspersed, simulated cork poppings, effective, though the music is more ingratiating than the Gounod. When, afterward, an attendant brought out a glass of the bubbly stuff for Venzago to take a swallow, the joke (not the champagne) had become stale.
Nor was 19-year-old guest violinist Stefan Jackiw’s playing of four Fritz Kreisler selections for violin and piano — with orchestrations by Clark McAlister — all that arresting. Though his intonation was impeccable, Jackiw’s rapid, ersatz virtuosic account of Kreisler’s well-known “Tambourin chinois” showed inarticulate passage work — rather like an overpedaled piano — and unconvincing accent points. As a Harvard sophomore and psychology major, Jackiw, to realize his talent, probably needs to concentrate only on music.