Guest conductor Andrés Franco led a muscular and powerful performance of the Boise Philharmonic at the Morrison Center on Saturday. From Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” to Mussgorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Franco elicited vivid musical color and movement from the orchestra. It was, however, not without some missteps.
Franco is the fifth of seven candidates for the orchestra’s music director position left open when Robert Franz resigned at the end of last season. Originally from Colombia, he is the newly minted music director of the Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma and an assistant conductor at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
The program opened with Verdi’s overture to the opera “The Force of Destiny.” Franco showed he works in broad swaths to music that when they hit their target were electrifying. From its blast-of-brass opening, Franco kept the pace brisk with rounded phrases that kept the string sections on their toes.
Franco cut a striking figure on the podium, conducting with a dancer’s grace and expressiveness. He was enjoyable to watch. He has an easy manner and spoke comfortably with the audience about his aspirations and the program.
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The strongest part of the program was its centerpiece Elgar Cello Concerto played by 22-year-old French cello phenom Edgar Moreau. It was such a treat to see this up-and-coming classical superstar in Boise. Winner of the Young Concert Artists international competition, he is currently on a sweep of American orchestras, and is definitely headed to the top ranks of musicians on the world stage.
Moreau plays an antique cello that at points roared and cried under his bow. Lean and agile with a delightful mop of hair, he approached the piece with a refreshing physicality. Playing with a level of maturity beyond his years he brought forth emotions with his take on this melancholy piece. Franco and the orchestra were completely responsive to the Moreau and vice versa. There were several moments when Moreau’s musical phrases blended effortlessly into the orchestra’s swell that were breathtaking.
The evening wrapped up with Ravel’s brilliant arrangement of Mussgorsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This piece was less successful than the other two, opening with a few flawed notes of the all-important dramatic beginning, though Franco quickly got the train back on the tracks.
The Mussgorsky was a great choice as a closer with its collision between romanticism and modernism. The audience could not help but be swept up in its energy. And Franco kept the tempos driving, playing the works dynamics to the hilt.
He said he wanted to end the concert with a bang, and this piece did exactly that, bringing the audience to its feet at its triumphant and exhilarating finale.