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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Oct. 30, 2001 – There's no doubt "the third time will be the charm" when the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra performs in concert Saturday night at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on St. Thomas. "No doubt" because its visits last year and the year before were crowd pleasers played to a full house.
That's in no small part because the appearance of an 85-member symphony orchestra is an exceptional event on an island where even a chamber ensemble has to import its strings. But it's also because Puerto Rico's government-supported, full-time professional orchestra is highly regarded in circles that extend far beyond the Caribbean.
Two years ago, the Birch Forum co-sponsored the orchestra's first appearance on St. Thomas in two decades. Last November, it did the same, for a memorable evening in which the Territorial Court Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra joined the classical musicians onstage for the Overture from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville."
This third time, again co-sponsored by the Birch Forum, the orchestra will open with the Overture from Hector Berlioz' "Le Corsair" — that "impetuous, piratical, stormy, brilliant, pictorial" music of lordly, leaping premier danceurs. The second piece on the first half of the program is Johannes Brahms' well-known "Double" Concerto in A minor, Op. 102, featuring violinist Dara Burkholder and cellist Jesus Morales as guest soloists. Following the intermission, the program will conclude with Antonin Dvorak's tribute to America's Negro and Native American folk melodies, the Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World").
To Cornelius Prior, president of the Birch Forum, one of the appeals of the program is the "magnificent contrast in musical styles" between the exuberance of "Le Corsair" and the lyrical romanticism of the "New World" symphony.
Another attraction for many will be an opportunity to see the orchestra's new music director, Guillermo Figueroa, one of the hottest baton properties around, in action. It was just in August that Figueroa became the first native Puerto Rican to hold that position, after having served as the orchestra's principal guest conductor. Three months earlier, he was named music director of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Meantime, he continues to call New York City home — where he lives with his wife and three daughters and is concertmaster of the New York City Ballet as well as one of the rotating concertmasters for the world-renowned Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Just a week ago, The New York Times profiled Figueroa in an article which quoted the maestro as saying that, for the foreseeable future, "I will be living on an airplane." He was in Albuquerque in September to open the symphony season and is commuting to conduct the Puerto Rico Symphony until mid-November, then heading to New York for a recording session and part of City Ballet's "Nutcracker" run, then will return to New Mexico in mid-December for a weekend, and so on and so on.
"It's easier to do than people think," he was quoted as saying. "Airports are calm, and there's so much increased security. Besides, there's nothing I can do about it."
As for the orchestra itself, it credibility is well established with St. Thomas audiences. Source reviewer Roger Lakins was hard pressed to find anything to complain about in last year's performance (he settled for a lack of program notes), writing: "the Puerto Rico Symphony has become a world-class orchestra with musically inspired leadership and absolutely first-class performers in all divisions."
Further, Lakins wrote, the orchestra's musicians collectively "have the silky quality of string tone. They have the purity of intonation. They have a brass section that can give you goosebumps. They have bassoons that make you close your eyes and wish you could lock that beautiful sound in your head to draw upon when needed in the future. What about the percussion? They're from Puerto Rico, for crying out loud. They can be so subtle that you wonder whether you really hear them or just feel them. They can also scare you like an earthquake … They have master teachers seated with their students who have become their colleagues, and they bring to life great music as a body with a real heart."
The orchestra was begun at the urging of legendary cellist Pablo Casals in 1957, the year the Casals Festival also made its debut. During its 48-week season, it performs for symphonic concerts, operas, ballets, and pops, community and children's concerts.
Saturday's program begins at 8 p.m. At $60 a pop, the covered-section seats are sold out, but tickets are available for $30 in the lower tiers of open seating and for $5 in the upper rows. To purchase tickets by charge card or to obtain information on ticket outlets, call the Reichhold box office at 693-1559 between 10 a.m and 4 p.m. To order tickets online or by printing out a form you can fax to the box office with credit-card information, visit the Reichhold Center web site. The site also has information about discount options available to season subscribers. Saturday's concert is the second of the season, and it's not too late to put together ticket packages.

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