PARK CITY — As surely as the snow melts from the slopes each spring, Deer Valley once again played host to the Utah Symphony for a rousing performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture" as part of its outdoor music festival.
Friday night’s concert did not disappoint, as the symphony jubilantly executed the famous overture, complete with cannon blasts — a stunt as effective in filling seats today as it was in Tchaikovsky’s day.
Under the baton of associate conductor Vladimir Kulenovic, the symphony kicked off the evening with Francis Scott Key and John Stafford Smith’s “Star-Spangled Banner” under a twilit, beautiful and spacious sky and amid a breathtaking mountain setting.
Next came Tchaikovsky’s lively “Capriccio Italien, Op. 45,” a romantic and charming composition peppered with Russian folk music. The symphony unlocked the true character of the piece with impeccable rhythmic precision and a trumpet section in fighting form. The audience seemed especially dazzled by the fast and furious finale that never lost control.
Sandwiching the intermission were George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and a collection of tunes from his “Porgy and Bess.”
“Rhapsody’s” guest pianist was a last-minute switch: Ilya Yakushev stepped in for an ill José Feghali. This is not the first time Yakushev has filled in on short notice. Fans may recall a similar scene in 2008 when, with 24 hours' notice, he played Prokofiev’s “Third Piano Concerto” under Keith Lockhart.
“Rhapsody’s” blend of jazz, popular tunes and concert music has taken on many forms over the past 90 years. With its metamorphosis into a full orchestral undertaking from its original mounting with a 23-piece jazz band, it’s easy to understand pianists' temptation to take up the jazzy slack by fabricating the swing intended for the band.
Fortunately, Yakushev didn’t take the bait. His interpretation was lively without being manufactured and precise without losing style.
“Porgy and Bess” opera selections followed, along with selections from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” Both were met with enthusiasm.
Finally, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture" began. The perennial favorite, always the headliner, celebrates Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812.
With its solemn opening hymn led by the strings until the battle charge of brass sliced through with hammering urgency, the flamboyant call and response between the strings and brass was delightful.
The light "Marseillaise" section against the pounding “God Save the Tsar!” seemed to embroil the musicians in their own battle, a chase scene with a triumphant finale crested by bells and cannon fire. Thanks to Cannoneers of the Wasatch, who brought up the rear with the blasting of 18 total shots to the appreciation of the ringing-eared audience, the traditional favorite will continue to be so.