Yannick and Yuja headline the season opener in Philadelphia

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Yannick and Yuja headline the season opener in Philadelphia

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Sep 27, 2016 8:46 pm

Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Yuja Wang. A few years ago, they were just gaining attention on the classical music scene. Today, they are established stars. Yannick began his tenure as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012. Now he has been chosen to lead two venerable musical institutions at the same time, music director of the Metropolitan Opera as well as music director of the Orchestra through 2025. Yuja’s career was launched in Philadelphia when she was still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, but now she is one of the world’s most acclaimed pianists. So it was altogether fitting that these stars headlined the season opener of the Philadelphia Orchestra on Thursday night, September 22.

Two works were listed on the program, but the evening began, as is traditional with opening night, with the Star Spangled Banner. As far as I could see, all orchestra members and audience members stood. Except the cellos, but they’re excused.

Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21, is actually his first concerto, but was published second. This is a work that’s sometimes defined by what it lacks. The orchestral portion is not particularly memorable, and the interplay between piano and orchestra is pedestrian at best. There are no cadenzas. The innovative harmonies and chromaticism of Chopin’s later works is only suggested in this 19-year-old’s creation. With all that, I love this work. Each movement has its distinct virtues. The first movement is melodic and flowing. The slow second movement has an unearthly beauty that is unsurpassed in the concerto literature. And the third movement is gloriously virtuosic.

I could only think of one adjective at the conclusion of Yuja Wang's performance: perfection. What words can I add? After a tremendous ovation, Yuja offered a delicious encore, Chopin’s Waltz in C Sharp Minor.

Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Peter Dobrin wrote a review of this concert which began with a lengthy exhortation to the audience to concentrate on Yuja Wang’s musical performance, not on what she wore. And then, of course, he described what she wore. I’ll indulge my curious readers by noting that she wore a sparkling, golden, backless, form-fitting gown. Yes, she looked sensational. Let’s not pretend that there’s not a strong visual component to a concert performance, in the classical as well as the popular area.

Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique is one of the most frequently played orchestral works. Call it a warhorse if you want, but to this listener, this 1830 composition remains a fresh and innovative and fascinating work. It calls for a huge, Mahler-size orchestra, including a rarely used instrument called the ophicleide (a brass instrument, similar to a tuba…and, yes, I had to look it up). The work is scored for two harps, unusual in itself, but this performance featured four harps, and it made a difference--we could definitely hear and appreciate their contribution in the second movement (“A Ball”). I’ve heard the Philadelphians perform it at least twice before, but under Yannick’s leadership, this was the most dynamic. The orchestra delivered the wide array of emotions in this five-movement work. The last two movements (“March to the Scaffold” and “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath”), are described in the composer’s own notes as opium-induced nightmares. These movements could also be called Berlioz’ advertisement for the drug, as they provide music that is both dark and thrilling. Standing ovations are almost the norm, but the ovation at the conclusion of this piece was especially loud and enthusiastic.

It was a great way to begin the season.

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