Phoenix Symphony Review - A Bravura Performance to an Exuberant Audience

Symphony Hall

Phoenicians love their symphony orchestra. First and foremost, they love Music Director Michael Christie. What’s not to love? He strolls on to his stage—believe me, he owns that stage—and talks to the audience in such a casual, friendly way, it’s like a private conversation. How he pulls off the intimate rapport he creates is beyond me, but it’s not beyond him.  He balances “gossipy” insider information, self-deprecating  humor and program notes in a most charming way-- and seems to have that same relationship with his orchestra.  
    As Christie puts it, “We want to embrace the tremendous buzz we are experiencing this spring, so we thought it would be appropriate to kick off the April encores by performing Rimsky-Korsakov’s "The Flight of the Bumblebee" following the April 2-3 Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances concerts. We will play our hearts out and let our fingers fly to show our immense gratitude to all of the people who come out to our performances to enjoy great music. Let the buzz continue!”

Michael Christie

Second, the program was challenging, uplifting and imaginative.  Opening with Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphonies of Wind Instruments,” was a gutsy move. Sure to
offend more than one person’s musical taste, it lacks melody and harmony yet it compensates for that by painting a musical palate of intriguing color tones.
The piece flaunts the virtuosity of the orchestra and coaxed us to extend the boundaries of our musical taste.

The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra

Then, for a change of pace, we were treated to Hayden’s “Symphony No. 90 in C” and its long solos showcasing the talents of flutist Brian Gordon,
oboist Marian Buswell, and cellist Gal Faganel.  We were then surprised by the musical joke the orchestra played on us.  Since the audience had greeted their
performance with a standing ovation (A person behind me said, “A standing ovation for Hayden?”), the orchestra  played the fourth movement as an encore—after
Christie has left the stage.

The Strings

Last, of course, came the “headliner,” Igor Stravinsky’s first major success, "The Firebird," and the first performance of the work–symbolic to Arizona
audiences for the mythical Phoenix–since the Symphony Hall reopening gala in 2005. A Diaghilev commission to the 28-year old Stravinsky. The ballet marks  
the beginning of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would also produce Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Inspired by the Russian fairy
tale, Stravinsky’s "Firebird" orchestration delights audiences with magical sounds. From its brooding beginning to its shimmering finale, Firebird took us on an imaginative musical adventure.

Michael Christie
begins his fourth season as the Virginia G. Piper Music Director of The Phoenix Symphony with the 2008-09 season. Once again, we found a surprising Chicago connection: Christie was  an apprentice conductor with the Chicago Symphony. His conducting teachers have included Daniel Barenboim, Robert Spano, Eiji Oue, and Peter Jaffe.

The Phoenix Symphony has been proudly serving the citizens of the Phoenix metropolitan area and Arizona since 1947. What began as an occasional group of musicians performing a handful of concerts each year (in a city of fewer than 100,000 people) today serves more than 300,000 people annually, with 275 concerts and presentations throughout the greater Phoenix area and beyond.  

The 76-member Phoenix Symphony presents an annual season from September through the beginning of June, featuring full-length classical and pops concerts at
Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix, as well as concerts in Scottsdale, Mesa, Prescott and throughout central Arizona. The Symphony performs for more than 50,000 students and children, helping to introduce music to new generations through a variety of education and youth-engagement programs.

Symphony Hall Exterior

Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix opened in 1972.  The building is the performance space for three arts companies— The Phoenix Symphony, Ballet Arizona, and Arizona Opera—who present annual seasons encompassing over 200 productions. Symphony Hall underwent a a major $18 million dollar renovation and face lift during 2004-5 and is owned an operated by the City of Phoenix as part of the Phoenix Convention Center.

Other highlights of The Phoenix Symphony’s 2008-09 Season include “Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances” (April 2-3) with the energetic bluegrass trio Time for Three, “Carmina Burana” (April 23-25) and “A Salute to Rodgers & Hammerstein” (May 15-17).

Purchase tickets at the Box Office or at
Phone: 602-495-1999 or 1-800-776-9080
Two Locations: Symphony Hall and One North First Street, Suite 200
Open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased at the Symphony Hall Box Office located at 75 North Second Street. A 15-minute pull-off parking area is located alongside Symphony Hall on Second Street (heading north from Washington Street) for your convenience.

Tickets may also be purchased at the new administrative and box office suites located on the second floor of One North First Street in Phoenix. The facility is located on the Northeast corner of North First Street and East Washington with convenient street parking available.

Photos: Phoenix Symphony and Herb Simms

The Phoenix Symphony is located at the 3rd St./Washington (westbound) or 3rd St./Jefferson (eastbound) Light Rail Station.

All Aboard! This article is the fourth in our series Valley Metro Light Rail Review – Spring Break Aboard Phoenix’s Newest Mode of Transportation. Is this
growing on you? Our next stop is the Desert Botanical Garden! Read about it in tomorrow’s Splash!

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