Lehninger fills in smartly with New West Symphony

By Rita Moran
Ventura County Star
Friday, February 4, 2011

Brazilian-born conductor Marcelo Lehninger was clearly in his comfort zone as he stepped in to lead the New West Symphony`s trio of concerts beginning last Friday night in Oxnard and culminating Sunday afternoon in Santa Monica.

With energy, grace and wit to spare, the 31-year-old took charge of a program featuring two works by Wagner, one by Tchaikovsky and a peppery finale by Leonard Bernstein. Lehninger, the assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was called in just days before the concerts to replace scheduled guest conductor Shi-Yeon Sung, who was delayed in Europe with visa problems. The wide experience he`s gained in his expanding career enabled him to both bond with the orchestra and bring distinctive resonances to the works at hand.

Love was the evening`s theme and Tchaikovsky`s Overture Fantasy from "Romeo and Juliet" found leader and orchestral team meeting on the same page with increasing rapport. Like all of the evening`s works requiring large instrumental forces, the fantasy called upon multiple players, from expanded woodwinds, brass and percussion to an abundance of strings. All were put to good use under Lehninger`s alert baton. Dramatic exclamations melted into moments of pensive sighs as the tragic tale progressed.In Lehninger`s first performance with the New West musicians on Friday night, Wagner`s "Siegfried" Idyll stirred from the quiet reaches of the orchestra into a resonance that flowed through the auditorium while touching on signature Wagnerian themes. There was a touch of tentativeness as musicians and conductor settled into their new partnership but the result was still deeply satisfying.

Returning to Wagner for the "Liebestod" section of "Tristan und Isolde," Lehninger led his brave band of players through the maze of motifs and reflections of another ill-fated romance, doing justice to Wagner`s mature, complex style.

Far more fun was Bernstein`s Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story." Yes, it`s a Romeo and Juliet-style tragedy told in the modern terms of ethnic rivalry, but its darker themes are preceded by the clash and exuberance of Latin rhythms and the effervescence of spicy personalities. The conductor embraced the spirit and had members of the orchestra snapping their fingers and shouting "Mambo!" on cue. Even the bass players got into the act at one point with a synchronized spinning of their cumbersome instruments. All together, the musical team brought out the best in the music and Lehninger brought out the best in the players.

After each piece, the visiting conductor generously pointed to individual players and sections for an extra bow and round of applause, warmly acknowledging their captivating work in an evening of daunting challenges

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