The Las Vegas Philharmonic gave a gift from the heart Saturday night with its Rising Star Concert, featuring four vivid and romantic selections, all conducted by British composer and conductor Alex Prior.
Barely 18 and already established in the classical music world, Prior has written more than 40 works, including symphonies, concertos and even a few ballets and operas. Along the way, he's garnered enough awards and honors to last others a lifetime.
And he's good -- with charming patter before the concert and between selections, wisdom that's decades beyond his years and his guileless, controlled and controlling conducting.
The program was made up of Carl Nielsen's "Helios Overture, Op. 17"; "Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 in E minor" by Ralph Vaughan; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet, Overture/Fantasy" and Ludwig van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60."
Prior began studying music at age 3 and began composing at 8, waiting until the ripe old age of 11 to start conducting. And although he is fun to watch, Prior is serious about his work. He knows just what he wants from the musicians and is not shy about asking. He works with the same intensity whether the passage is the mildest "pianissimo" or the boldest "fortissimo."
Throughout the evening, the orchestra -- and the audience -- seemed to love it. Even some of the more stoic members of the orchestra allowed themselves a smile or two when they paused during selections, simply enjoying the man and "his" music. Standing ovations were ebullient.
During the "Helios Overture," which embodies sunrise to sunset over the Aegean, Prior's movements seemed to will the sun to rise, with the orchestra reinforcing his wish. The following searing notes suggested a midday heat before another shift in tone and tempo brought a relaxing, romantic sunset and conclusion.
"Norfolk Rhapsody," based on folk tunes and sea shanties, was straightforward, but Prior and the musicians gave it a wild life, from infectiously toe-tapping to explosive. Climactic passages suggested waves crashing over the bow of a ship before a calmer conclusion.
There were plenty of familiar passages in Tchaikovsky's overture to "Romeo and Juliet," but neither Prior nor the musicians let the audience rely upon memory alone, suggesting enough emotion to do any Montague or Capulet proud.
After intermission, Beethoven's Fourth was easygoing and subtle, with a basic cheerfulness. Its lack of despair does not signal a lack of depth, however, and it made a choice conclusion to the romantic evening.
As the concert title anticipates, it's easy to believe that Prior's star has just begun to rise.