Two great orchestras

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 great orchestras

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Mar 13, 2016 2:15 pm

During a five-day stretch, I had the opportunity to hear two orchestras with very different histories, but a common reputation for excellence.

The venerable Philadelphia Orchestra was established in 1900. It was a dominant force in the orchestral world for decades but slipped somewhat in recent years and also experienced financial peril, resulting in a bankruptcy reorganization in 2011. I would argue that the glory days are back, thanks in large part to the leadership of music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

On Thursday night, March 3, Yannick led a program consisting of two often played, but deservedly popular works. Hélène Grimaud was the outstanding soloist in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. More like a symphony for piano and orchestra, the listener is drawn to the grandeur and profound beauty of the music, rather than the pianistic fireworks. It’s certainly a challenge for the pianist—our keyboard side seats gave us a great view of the tortures which Brahms inflicts on the pianist, and which Grimaud conquered with such assurance--but the focus is always on the music. All four movements are gifts to the musical experience, but special mention must be made of the passionate dialogue between cello and piano in the third movement. Principal cello Hai-Ye Ni brought her golden tone to this famous exchange.

Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 (“Spring”) is aptly named. It’s not as “programmatic” as Beethoven’s Sixth, the Pastoral, but it conveys the mood of the season through the joyousness that permeates the work. The orchestra’s fine performance certainly put me in mood for the coming season, despite the snow that just started to fall as we left the Kimmel Center.

The Russian National Orchestra is of more recent vintage. Founded in 1990 by the renowned pianist Mikhail Pletnev, it is unique among Russian ensembles as a private, non-governmental institution. During its relatively short history, it has gained a reputation as a world-class orchestra, and its visits to the United States are eagerly anticipated.

I had heard the RNO before, at a music festival several years ago in Boca Raton, Florida. But the performance took place in a large tent, with amplification that did not do justice to the orchestra. However, on Monday night, March 7, we heard the RNO in the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida. From our particular seats in the balcony, the acoustics were excellent and I could really appreciate the virtuosity of the individual musicians during their solos as well as the overall sound and presence of this great orchestra.

Under the direction of Kirill Karabits, the orchestra began this all-Russian concert with a brief but pleasing appetizer, In the Steppes of Central Asia, by Alexander Borodin. This was followed by Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. It’s a work that combines lyricism with that undertone of anxiety and foreboding that is so typical of Prokofiev. This was my first time hearing soloist Stefan Jackiw, and on the basis of this superb performance, I hope to hear him again. Whether it was good orchestral balance maintained by the conductor, or Jackiw’s tone, or the acoustics, I could clearly hear the solo violin throughout the concerto.

Igor Stravinsky arranged three suites from his ground breaking ballet, The Firebird. The last of these, from 1945, comprised of 11 segments, contains the most music from the complete score. So for those like myself who can’t have enough of this great music, it’s the best of the three suites. The RNO’s performance was magnificent in every way, with special mention to the solo players, especially the French horn.

Finally, we were treated to not one but two encores, a rarity in other orchestral concerts. The clear intent was to wow the audience and the thrilling renditions of two works by Khachaturian--the waltz from the Masquerade Suite and Lezghinka from the ballet Gayaneh—did just that.

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Re: Two great orchestras

Post by Seán » Wed Mar 16, 2016 6:37 pm

Very fine and informative reviews Henry, thanks for that.

"To appreciate the greatness of the Masters is to keep faith in the greatness of humanity." - Wilhelm Furtwängler

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