Two Twentieth Century Masters

Have you been to a concert somewhere in the world recently? Share your thoughts with us about the performance, the more details the better!

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Two Twentieth Century Masters

Post by Ricordanza » Fri Apr 20, 2012 5:42 am

Saturday night’s Philadelphia Orchestra concert began on a note of serenity: Mendelssohn’s gentle and flowing Hebrides Overture. But the mood quickly shifted as the orchestra presented two of the more exciting and nerve-jangling works of Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky.

Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is not an easy work to love. At times harsh and ferocious, it frequently emphasizes the percussive aspects of the instrument. But it was easy to love this performance, featuring the brilliant Yefim Bronfman. Anyone familiar with this pianist knows he has all the tools to negotiate the most treacherous passages (and this concerto is full of them), but his performance did more than that—it made me listen more carefully and begin to appreciate the work more. The interplay between piano and orchestra, under the excellent direction of guest conductor Gilbert Varga, was especially sharp and intense. So by the time the audience responded with a thunderous ovation, I was looking forward to the next time I could experience this work.

But I must admit, the piece I was most anxious to hear was Igor Stravinsky’s music for the ballet Petrushka. Although I had long been familiar with the dazzling piano excerpts from this music, Three Movements from Petrushka, my first exposure to the full orchestral version came at a Philadelphia Orchestra concert in February 2008, led by then Associate Conductor Rossen Milanov. The piece made an immediate impact on me, and Saturday night’s thrilling performance demonstrated anew that this is one of the greatest orchestral works of the Twentieth Century.

I must add a few words about Gilbert Varga, who, with his flowing silver hair, slim and erect bearing, and tailored Edwardian coat, looks like the Symphony Conductor from Central Casting. But he’s obviously a fine musician, albeit with a unique conducting style. In some passages, he’s a whirlwind of physicality, with big and dramatic gestures, while at other times, he stands completely still, just allowing the music to flow. I’ve never seen a conducting technique quite like it, but the results were certainly pleasing to the audience members, including me.

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