The Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra makes another contribution to the celebration of Leonard Bernstein's centennial with the performance of the composer's "Serenade" Saturday evening at the Rabobank Theater.
Bernstein's "Serenade," a multi-movement work for solo violin and orchestra written for Isaac Stern, is part of the explosion of work produced by the composer-conductor-educator-performer during the 1950s. Sandwiched between the opening of "On the Town" on Broadway, "On the Waterfront" (for which he wrote the score) on film, the famed "Omnibus" lectures on television, "Serenade" made its premiere on in Venice, Italy, in September of 1954, with Stern performing while Bernstein conducted the Israel Philharmonic.
Like several other Bernstein pieces, "Serenade" is based on literature, in this case, Plato's "Symposium," a dialogue in which several famous men of his time — Socrates, Aristophanes, Agathon, Alcibiades and others — are asked to give a speech in praise of love, or more specifically, Eros, the god of love and desire. Each of the speakers contributes, some talking about romantic love, some about the love of wisdom, the virtue that love inspires or the desire for wholeness. Each speaker also begins by picking up some element of the previous speaker's comments.
Bernstein uses that same idea for his piece. In the opening movement, solo violin states an initial theme ("argument") that provides the musical elements that will evolve and be transformed over the course of the succeeding movements, each named after one of the participants in Plato's work.
Violinist Blake Pouliot is the guest soloist for the evening. Pouliot is a Canadian artist currently studying at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He has enjoyed a busy concert career since his debut at age 11 with the Toronto Trinity Chamber Orchestra, and has won several competitions.
Petko Dimitrov serves as guest conductor for the evening. Dimitrov, who has substituted for music director Stilian Kirov in previous seasons, is currently the music director of the New Symphony Orchestra in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Lakeland Youth Symphony in New Jersey.
The rest of the program consists of a sure-to-please performance: the "Carmen Suite," also known as "The Carmen Ballet," by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin. Unlike Georges Bizet's own concert versions of instrumental music from his opera, Shchedrin's music is a reworking of major musical moments, into a one-act ballet created by Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso. Arranged for strings and percussion, Shchedrin changed some of the instrumentation and even rhythmic elements to retell the "Carmen" story.