You can tell a lot about a conductor by the way they end a concert.
Will it be a flash of showmanship, arms flailing as they lead up to that bombastic finale? Or a quiet conclusion, soft to the point that the audience is left wondering "Is that it?
On Friday night at Tucson Music Hall, Tucson Symphony Orchestra guest conductor Tania Miller ended somewhere in the middle.
There was no bombastic jerk of the arms or waving of the hands to signal the finale of Sibelius's Symphony No. 1 in E minor. Instead, she exhibited a calm confidence, as if to say, "That's that. How did we do?"
From the rush of the 1,350 people loosely filling the hall on a prematurely frigid Friday night, she and the orchestra did everything right, from the opening clarinet solo played with extraordinary elegance by Michael Byerly to the singing chase passage and cinematic flourish coming from the strings. The music swelled and contracted, at times creating a wonderful wall of sonic melody before Miller reined it in for the final breath of pizzicato chords and blissful silence that marks the ending.
In between the applause were a few well placed "Bravos" shouted out to assure Miller, 44, that her turn with the orchestra was fine indeed.
Miller, who just marked 10 years leading the Victoria Symphony in her native Canada, is among the guest conductors vying to replace George Hanson when he leaves the TSO after the 2014-15 season. Her performances this weekend — the concert repeats Sunday afternoon — is an audition to see if we like her and she likes us. From our end, it's safe to say she was feeling some love from the audience. She also seemed to have some chemistry with the orchestra, which turned in wonderful performances throughout the night.
The concert opened with the orchestra's first-ever reading — an impressive one at that — of Arvo Pärt's "If Bach Had Raised Bees …," a work that traverses rates of speed to create layers of voices. Before the concert, Miller explained that Pärt deliberately wrote the piece in B flat, A, C and B natural — which the Germans assigned the letter "H" — so that it would spell "Bach." Miller wisely did not let the piece go crazy fast, nor slow down to lose the sensation of bees buzzing throughout all sections of the orchestra. The only complaint was that the piece's redundancy seemed to drag after awhile.
Guest pianist Gabriela Martinez also made her TSO debut, performing Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major. Miller was fortunate to have an impressive guest artist at the keyboard. The Venezuela-born Martinez, 29, who has made her home in the United States since she was 11, plays with elegant lyricism. She strikes an impressive pose: model beautiful, tall and thin and dressed in a tight-fitting floor-length gown with her long blond hair drawn back in a ponytail. Her hands glided ballet-like over the keys with enough flourish to keep you interested but not enough to distract. From the deliciously prolonged first movement to the finale, she created graceful poetry of Beethoven's taut writing.