Las Vegas Philharmonic music director and conductor David Itkin did not go for the obscure for the opening of the 2011-2012 season before a near-capacity crowd Saturday at University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Ham Hall. In fact, he noted in his pre-performance remarks that Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which occupied the second half of the program, is “the most famous tune in all of Western music.”
Fame can spell misfortune when an orchestra offers a piece that so many already know, but here the musicians brought grand emotion to the composition, especially in the second movement — with brightness where there is often solemnity. It was polished, well-played and well-conducted.
The evening’s featured musician was Miles Hoffman, a Juilliard-trained violist who first played at Ham Hall when he toured with the National Symphony Orchestra about 25 years ago.
He offered William Walton’s “Viola Concerto.” The piece was written by the British composer in the late ’20s, and, as Hoffman explained, has many similarities to Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto,” written in 1923.
The audience knew Hoffman was working: He rolled up the sleeves of his long-sleeved black crew neck shirt at the first pause, and he wiped — not dabbed — his face and neck with his handkerchief several times throughout.
The climactic third movement brought lushness and emotion, with a gentle fade to nothingness before the appreciative applause of the crowd.
The Philharmonic opened the evening with Glinka’s overture to “Russian and Ludmilla,” a Russian opera from 1842. The story is of a young royal, Ludmilla, who is stolen from her family by an evil dwarf just before her wedding to Russian and the struggles that ensue before the “happily ever after.”
The orchestra made the complex piece seem easy, developing a dynamic temperament that suggested a classic encounter of virtue versus villain with an energetic conclusion that leaves no doubt who will win.
This was a well-balanced program that shows that in his fifth season as the music director and conductor, Itkin continues to build his ability to guide the orchestra’s contribution to the community.REVIEW
What: Las Vegas Philharmonic Masterworks 1
When: Saturday, Sept. 10
Where: University of Nevada Las Vegas Artemus W. Ham Hall, 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy.