Review: Demirjian set the bar high for the Boise Phil’s conductor search with a thrilling season opener

Guest conductor Aram Demirjian lead off the Boise Philharmonic’s music director search with superlative performance Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Morrison Center. He is one of seven candidates for the position.
Guest conductor Aram Demirjian lead off the Boise Philharmonic’s music director search with superlative performance Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Morrison Center. He is one of seven candidates for the position.

Guest conductor Aram Demirjian promised to kick off the the Boise Philharmonic’s season — and music director search — with musical fireworks, and boy, did he deliver Saturday night, Oct.1, at the Morrison Center before a crowd of nearly 1,500. (About 1,700 tickets were sold, but there were no-shows due to the Boise State-Utah State game.)

From the sparkling opening of the Dvorak Scherzo Capriccioso to the triumphant finale of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” Demirjian and the orchestra took the audience on a breathtaking musical journey. He even had the musicians singing (literally).

There’s a lot of excitement around the season. Demirjian (pronounced De-merge-n) is the first of seven candidates vying to fill the music director position vacated by Robert Franz. Each will perform a program they created around an assigned solo concerto. Read about the search here.

If this concert is any indication, it’s going to be an amazing season. Demirjian, 30, helped by the phenomenal piano soloist Andrew Von Oeyen and composer Michael Schachter, set the bar extremely high.

From the podium, Demirjian made a fresh, energetic and humble presence as he spoke warmly and engagingly to the audience about his collaborative approach to the music, and each time he stepped down from the elevated platform to join the orchestra’s ranks for his bows.

His movements were controlled, specific and expressive, and were punctuated by the movement of his tightly controlled, thick mop of hair.

The program he created around ideas of dance reflected his philosophy of classical music as a visceral experience that invites the listener to connect deeply and be inspired to move. You couldn’t help but be touched.

Throughout the concert, the orchestra was visibly engaged and responsive. They played with spark, finesse and a vibrant dimensionality that brought each part into clear focus. In the dance world, lighting designers use side-lighting to create three dimensions in physical space. Demirjian and the musicians applied something like auditory side lighting that amplified the experience of listening.

The night offered multiple highlights.

Von Oeyen’s rendition of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 seriously rocked the place. The one piece that Demirjian was given showed the depth of his selections, because in the Tchaikovsky you heard the direct connection to Stravinsky’s modernism that came late in the program.

Von Oeyen played with supreme clarity and articulation. His elegant and sophisticated approach gave him rich dynamics and control over the piece’s pyrotechnics and was masterful. He elicited a burst of cheers and applause after the first movement. Taking a moment to recover, he delved deeper into the refined complexities of the second and third movements that brought the audience to its feet.

That could have been enough, but then Von Oeyen came back after three curtain calls for an encore piece — his own transcription of Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” a piece that was originally written for violin. Subtle and emotionally evocative, it was almost an otherworldly experience to hear it.

Next up was a new work by composer Schachter that shows that Demirjian keeps exceptionally good company. Friends from their years at Harvard, where Demirjian studied law before music, Schachter made the trip to Boise to introduce his “Five-Six-Seven-Eight,” a piece of four miniature movements (two minutes each), each in the meter of its name and referencing a different style of dance.

Influenced by East Indian music and dance, it opened with deep, resonate humming performed by the musicians. The piece was exciting with its short, bursts of intriguing and complex musicality that rested easy on the ears. Schachter is a composer to watch. He has an epic commission from American Repertory Theatre in Boston for a musical theater piece based on Langston Hughes poetry.

The “Firebird” finale again transported the audience through its power and majesty. Demirjian and the musicians gave it their all from the deep dark, resonant cellos at the opening to the spectacularly satisfying ending.

Throughout the concert there was a sense of a journey taken — by the musicians and Demirjian to get to this performance, by the audience through the arc of Demirjian’s program. Both were ultimately delightful and gratifying, and clearly elevated everyone in the room.

Now, this begins the community’s journey to find the Boise Phil’s next artistic leader. It’s going to be thrilling.

Up next

Michelle Merrill with violinist Caroline Goulding. The program: Berloiz’s “Roman Carnival Overture,” Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, Brandt Center, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa, and Saturday, Oct. 22, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. (7 p.m. preconcert talks). Tickets: $22.50 to $45 in Nampa; $24.50-$70.50 in Boise at 344-7849,