Guest conductor Eric Garcia made an impressive debut with the Boise Philharmonic and a strong bid to win the orchestra’s music director position with a superb performance at the Morrison Center on Saturday night.
Currently the director of orchestral activities and an associate professor of conducting at the Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University, Garcia is the sixth of seven candidates vying to replace Robert Franz after his eight years at the orchestra’s helm. He also has been an assistant conductor at the Seattle Symphony.
Garcia built an all-Russian program featuring Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto played by American violinist David Kim.
From the opening fanfare of the Shostakovich Festive Overture, to the explosive ending of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, the performance was a complete success.
Short and to the point, the Festive Overture made a wonderfully celebratory beginning. It was filled with crackling, energetic strings and a blaze of brass that left the audience cheering.
Next, Kim offered a truly virtuosic performance of the Tchiakovsky, receiving a standing ovation after the first movement. Kim played with a dynamic energy.
His playing struck a balance between swimming with the orchestra and bursting forth. His solos soared with a mix of sultry sizzle, angelic high notes and powerful, graceful arpeggios that ranged from melancholy to playful. Had he been a rock guitarist, the audience would have been holding lighters aloft in the hall.
Garcia and the orchestra were with him at every turn, moving in and out of the music and creating a strong frame for the piece.
Garcia spoke with the audience at the opening of the program’s second half with warmth and ease. He talked about his musical philosophy and background before diving into the Prokofiev.
He and the orchestra tackled this 20th century masterpiece with superb results, offering some breathtaking moments.
The piece was a great choice because it’s not often performed, so it felt fresh. It also provided a wonderful showcase for the musicians. They played with a rich depth of color as they masterfully handled the complexities of this work of classical structure and 20th century heart. They hit the balance between its almost cinematic melodic beauty, heartbreaking dissonance and pyrotechnic fire.
Garcia’s sure hand guided the piece through elegant and expressive movement. Timing was spot on, especially at the resounding finale of the first movement and the almost breathless end of the second.
Each of the sections had a chance to shine from brass to strings to woodwinds. The percussion ensemble was particularly tight, which makes sense considering Garcia’s training as a percussionist.
The finale landed exactly right and again brought the audience to its feet. Each of the other candidates seem to bring out different personalities of the orchestra. Under Garcia the philharmonic was vivid, muscular and crisp. The final decision will be a difficult choice from among several good candidates.