Auburn Symphony gets ready for road trip to the Mondavi Center

Sunday’s concert marks one year for Maestro Jaffe
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
-A +A

Auburn Symphony at Mondavi
3 p.m. Sunday, April 14
Where: The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Davis, California
Program: Kabalevsky: Colas Breugnon Overture; Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor; Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
Cost: $40 general/$20 student  

Don’t get me wrong. The members of the Auburn Symphony truly appreciate the Placer High School Auditorium. But the chance to play in the Mondavi Center? Well, that’s like a baseball player finally taking the field at Fenway.
“The hall is really quite magnificent,” said Richard Altenbach, the symphony’s concertmaster and first violinist. “It’s easy for the musicians to hear onstage all of the details and yet it melts into a beautiful resonant sound, a warm sound for the audience that reflects back on to the stage.”
The Auburn Symphony has been playing an annual concert at the Mondavi Center in Davis since 2005. Flutist Carole Darlington has played them all.
“You can hear each individual instrument as a musician sitting in the orchestra,” she said. “For the audience I think it’s quite a big difference as well. Every year I hear it – ‘you guys sound so great in that auditorium.’ We are really lucky to have the Placer High School auditorium but acoustically, it’s not set up like Mondavi.”
Known for its exceptionally clean acoustics, Jackson Hall, the large concert venue, has an orchestra shell that rises out of the stage on air casters.
“Despite it being a huge place, you can hear everything,” said French horn player Chris Jones. “Even at full volume you can still hear yourself. During the quiet passages it seems like one small instrument finds a way to fill up the hall.”
This year they will be joined by pianist Chu-Fang Huang, one of the most celebrated guest artists to play with them.
“Our conductor always gets fine young talent, some of the finest you can find,” Altenbach said. “The Mendelssohn piano concerto she will play, it’s very familiar, light and romantic; yet flashy and virtuosic for the pianist.”
It also marks the one-year anniversary of Maestro Peter Jaffe, who made his debut with the Auburn Symphony at the 2012 Mondavi performance.
“I think he’s fantastic,” Darlington said. “He is a big personality with big aspirations. He demands a lot and gets it. His energy is incredible, infectious. I think he has the most incredible ear as any conductor I’ve played for. He knows if something’s not quite right. He’s really improved our play; he’s a good fit for us.”
Part of that fit is the music he picks out for them to play. Darlington said the pieces were chosen well for Mondavi, especially the rich, full sound of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which features soloists from every section of the orchestra.
“A lot of diversity,” she said. “You hear instruments that are not always featured, like the saxophone and euphonium, lot of trumpets, lots of brass.”
Altenbach described it as a musical tour-de force, but it sounds tame compared to what he says about the overture.
“We’re starting out with a very fast and furious overture by Kabalevsky,” he said. “Very wild, very frantic and very fun. It’s one of the fastest overtures you will hear.”
From overture to end note, this is the season finale for the Auburn Symphony, a season that began with uncertainty but flourished under a new leader.
“It’s gone better than anybody could have expected,” Jones said. “People came from all over to play with Michael (Goodwin, the late conductor). You had an orchestra that just loved him.  How does someone come into this situation? I don’t know how he’s done it, but it’s been fantastic; he brings so much enthusiasm and joy. He has a totally different style. I’m so thankful he’s our new musical director. The orchestra feels reenergized.”
After Sunday they will have an entire offseason to reenergize. And they had better rest up, because once they are back under the Maestro’s baton, there’s no ‘fiddling’ around.
“He is extremely efficient and fast paced,” Altenbach said. “We require a lot of energy to keep up with him. We had the beautiful sound with Michael Goodwin, but he’s really brought precision to the orchestra. That’s what he concentrates on. He is very demanding and sets a high standard.”
To coincide with their performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Jaffe will visit Skyridge School today to present a slide show and talk about the famous paintings and sculptures that have been inspired by this music over the years. As part of the symphony’s educational outreach, they provided a CD of “Pictures” to the 3rd and 4th grade class, which was played as the children created their own works of art. These pieces will be displayed in the lobby of the Mondavi Center prior to Sunday’s performance.