A Scottish flavored evening at the Philadelphia Orchestra

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A Scottish flavored evening at the Philadelphia Orchestra

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:05 am

It was certainly an unusual sight at a Philadelphia Orchestra concert—a bagpiper, in full regalia, slowly marching down the left aisle of Verizon Hall, playing a tune with the stirring but mournful sounds of his instrument. We saw and heard this in the final moments of Peter Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, the first piece on the orchestra’s program on Thursday night, January 18.

For the second week of the orchestra’s “British Isles Festival,” all three works on the program had a Scottish flavor. I won’t say that they were Scottish, since none of the three composers are natives of Scotland. But Davies comes the closest, as this English-born composer (1934-2016) took up residence in the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland (brrrr!). This 1984 piece colorfully depicts a wedding, including a drunken party, and ending with a calming sunrise. This was the first Philadelphia Orchestra performance, and the audience responded enthusiastically to the piece.

The next work, Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, is an established crowd-pleaser. Bruch incorporated Scottish folk melodies in this showpiece for violin and orchestra, and the audience was treated to an outstanding performance by Juliette Kang, the orchestra’s first associate concertmaster. I know that this orchestra is filled with fine musicians, but this performance was many levels above “fine.” Tone, technique, phrasing, emotional commitment—she has it all.

The melodies in Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony (No. 3, but actually the last of five adult symphonies he composed) are not specifically folk tunes, but were inspired by Mendelssohn’s visit to Scotland at age 20. There are no bagpipes in this symphony, of course, but my personal impression is that the aura of that instrument—sounds which are both mournful and stirring—can be found in this gorgeous work. Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin led a warm and flowing rendition of this beloved symphony.

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