Orchestra and soloist show their colors

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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Orchestra and soloist show their colors

Post by Ricordanza » Sun May 01, 2016 9:55 pm

Music is often described in visual terms. We talk of orchestral colors. Dynamics may be finely shaded. A performance is glowing. Is it because, in the English language, there are more adjectives for what we can see with our eyes than what we can hear with our ears?

Perhaps. But I think that visual descriptions are fitting for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s program on Thursday evening, April 28, led by Principal Guest Conductor Stéphane Denève.

The first half was devoted to the music of John Williams, not his well-known film music (Star Wars, Jaws, Superman and Schindler’s List, just to name a few), but rather, his “classical” concert music.

The esteemed Yo-Yo Ma was the outstanding soloist in Williams’ Cello Concerto. This is a work of four contrasting movements, but played continuously without interruption. The varied colors of the cello are on full display in different sections of the work, from growling in the lower registers, to intensity in the virtuosic passages, even to percussive, and finally, in the last movement, “Song,” the instrument at its most lyrical. The piece was written expressly for Ma, and I could not imagine a more ideal performer for this imaginative and intriguing work.

The concerto was preceded by Tributes! For Seiji, a brief and energetic work written to celebrate Seiji Ozawa’s 25th anniversary as music director of the Boston Symphony. The piece has its appealing moments, but it doesn’t have the depth and lasting impact of the Cello Concerto.

Debussy is certainly a composer who comes to mind when we think of visual descriptions. That’s especially true when his pieces are actually entitled with descriptive phrases. From his three-piece set, Nocturnes, the orchestra played Clouds and Festivals (the third piece would have required a chorus). Clouds fits more into the mold of the impressionistic Debussy, a piece drawn with subtle pastels. But Festivals is rendered in bold colors and strong brush strokes, and it’s dominated by a lively and vigorous Tarantella. Both pieces were performed brilliantly by the Philadelphians.

There can be no doubt about the visual aspect of the last piece on the program, because, indeed, its subject matter is visual. Mussorgsky wrote his great piano work, Pictures at an Exhibition, after visiting a memorial exhibition of paintings and drawings by his friend Viktor Hartmann. Orchestrated most famously by Maurice Ravel, in this concert, we heard the version orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski. According to the program notes, this version has not been performed by the Philadelphians since 1962. It is impossible and perhaps unfair to compare the two orchestrations. I have heard the Ravel so many times that, at first, it’s jarring when a section is presented with unfamiliar instrumentation. But trying to listen to and appreciate the piece without comparison, I have to say that the Stokowski orchestration stands on its own as a dramatic and—there we go again—colorful orchestral version of this fascinating music. And what can be more dramatic than the final segment, “The Great Gate at Kiev?” With Stokowski’s flair for shaping a unique sound, and the addition of the organ to the orchestral palette, this conclusion is positively earth shattering. When Denève signaled the end of the final sustained chord with a swoop of his arm, the audience leapt to its feet and let out one of the loudest ovations I have ever heard at a Philadelphia Orchestra concert.

For all the comparisons, that’s something that just doesn’t happen when viewing a work of visual art, even a great one.

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Re: Orchestra and soloist show their colors

Post by arepo » Mon May 02, 2016 8:28 am


Great review, as always. Sorry I missed this concert.

Hope to see you at the Cooper recital.



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