Saturday night, Michael Miropolsky took the artistic helm of the Bellevue Philharmonic in a rousing concert of Russian music at the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center.
Miropolsky has been assistant principal second violin with the Seattle Symphony since 1991, but has pursued a career in conducting and musical direction simultaneously, with a particular emphasis on working with young musicians and much of which he is continuing along with his new appointment as music director of the Bellevue Phiharmonic.
His program was one which stretched the orchestra and himself as he and the musicians had just four rehearsals to get to know one another and prepare for it: three selections from Aram Khachaturian’s ballet “Gayane,” Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” It could even have been risky, but Miropolsky obviously had the confidence in the musicians that they could come through, and they did. Quite a few extra players for these works helped fill the small stage to capacity.
Miropolsky spoke briefly and engagingly to the audience before each work, giving the background of each piece and laying the groundwork for understanding stories and what to listen for.
Amos Yang, until recently part of the cello section of the Seattle Symphony and now assistant principal cello with the San Francisco Symphony, took the challenging solo role in the Shostakovich. The first movement never stops for the soloist, and it’s as though the cello is portraying the feelings of ordinary people in Stalin’s times, feelings of angst, anxiety and unremitting tension, full of frustration, anger and restless intensity. Yang brought this out superbly well, and with technical excellence. Serene moments in the second movement alleviated the mood. Shostakovich created a cadenza which takes up an entire movment, following straight on from the second movement and seguing into the last, and in this again, Yang developed the emotional content to the fullest.
The orchestra and Miropolsky were able supporters, though there were times when they were not quite together with Yang.
“Gayane” and “Scheherazade,” descriptive works full of musical color received lively performances, the latter requiring fine solo work deserving kudos on the part of many orchestra members, concertmaster Brittany Boulding in particularly for her portrayal of Scheherazade herself.
While there were some moments when sections of the orchestra were not quite together, this will go away as the musicians get used to Miropolsky’s style and beat. Saturday’s concert was a clear success, and judging by the faces of the musicians, they were pleased with both performance and their new director.