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Music Reviews

Oct 19, 2008 - Conductor Rebecca Miller and violinist Maia Cabeza impress in debuts with the Reno Philharmonic

By Jack Neal

When times are tough, it seems unseemly to have an embarrassment of riches. Yet that’s what’s happening with the Reno Philharmonic’s season of on-the-job tryouts for the orchestra’s new conductor and music director. So far, everything is coming up roses.

Musically fascinating with a hypnotic baton technique, the exciting Rebecca Miller made her conducting debut (the second of five finalists) with the Reno Philharmonic Sunday afternoon (10/19/08) at Reno’s Pioneer Center. She is a major talent. Beyond her artful manipulation of the baton, Miller’s is the body language that makes the music sing through one incandescent reading after another.

The program of Pierre Jalbert’s Chamber Symphony (circa 2004), Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor featuring 16-year-old violinist Maia Cabeza (also making her Reno Philharmonic debut), and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica,” give room for Miller’s stylish musicianship to spread its wings and soar. That she is the first woman to conduct the Reno Philharmonic is of historic significance. That such an event is long overdue goes without saying. Miller’s work is nuanced and shaped with subtlety and laced with grace and tremendous energy.

The Jalbert’s three movements titled “Joyous,” “Ethereal,” and “Rhythmically Driving,” can be described as dark, foreboding with thick-textured clusters of sound - and exciting. Immediately likeable and easily accessible for listeners, the work is a tour de force for any conductor. Miller makes the most of it without affectation. Whether the Jalbert, the Glazunov, or the Beethoven, Miller mines music for what the composer had in mind not how the music can be stretched to fit a conductor’s ego. Ego for music, not for self, is a lovely quality.

The rhapsodic nature of Glazunov’s romantic violin concerto is in the exceptional hands and serene presence of Maia Cabeza, one of America’s most distinguished young violinists. Cabeza has a big, dark sound, and the virtuosity and the youthfulness to make her presentation of the Glazunov as technically impressive, as it is fresh. The finessed collaborations of Cabeza, the orchestra and Miller, make the concerto a love fest for virtuosity and romanticism.

With enormous energy Miller vitalizes the thirst for freedom Beethoven pours into his magnificent “Eroica” symphony. The tempo of the first movement is brisk, the impact is dramatic, the involvement with the composer’s genius is as complete as such a thing can be. Elegant without being overly refined, her reading is triumphant. The second movement, “Marcia Funebre,” is an inspired balance between noble expressiveness and the push for momentum. The “Scherzo” begins lighter than air, then explodes into playful rough housing of the most divine sort. The ebb and flow of the finale, plus Beethoven’s teasingly false conclusions, are treated adroitly and without fuss. Miller’s is an interpretation of exhilaration that unfailingly underlines Beethoven’s genius for brilliant music expressing humanity’s highest aspirations for freedom from oppression.

Through it all the orchestra is playing better than ever. Fine orchestral playing and the art of inspiring audiences to hear great music played as it should be played is the point of pursuing the finest conductor available. Miller’s revelatory interpretations, her ability to lead with warmth and conviction, and the Reno Philharmonic’s high level of achievement under her direction, make these two Rebecca Miller concerts very special events.

The concert will be repeated Tuesday (10/21/08) at 7:30 p.m.

All Reno Philharmonic subscription concerts are performed at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, 100 South Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada. The orchestra’s next series of concerts will be November 16 and 17 (2008) and will feature conductor Christopher Confessore, cellist Julie Albers, and the music of Michael Torke (“Italian Straw Hat” Suite), Camille Saint-Saens (Concerto for Cello No. 1), and Edward Elgar (“Enigma Variations”). For information call 775-323-6393 or go on line at

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