Whenever conductor Charles Dutoit and pianist Martha Argerich appear on the same program, reviewers invariably mention that they were once husband and wife. Even the brief mention of their upcoming program in Friday’s New York Times calendar of events manages to include this tidbit. It’s not surprising—most of us have a curiosity about the personal lives of performers, and it is not that much different whether it is a pop star or a classical music star. Among the pop stars, the media is filled with stories about bitter divorces and tales of vengeance and legal battles. So it is, at the very least, intriguing that this ex-couple manages to perform together on a regular basis. Indeed, within my experience, Argerich has only appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra when Dutoit is on the podium.
We can speculate all we want about their personal lives, but there is no doubt that Dutoit and Argerich make beautiful music together. Thursday night’s program featured two piano concertos which, although briefer in duration than some of the “big” pieces in this repertoire, still represent formidable challenges for the soloist and orchestra. Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1, begun at age 19 while still a conservatory student and completed two years later, is an enormously appealing work. It is sometimes light and witty, but never superficial. It is clearly a work for a virtuoso pianist, and Martha Argerich remains on the summit of the piano world. She has it all—a commanding technique, poetry and passion, and that indefinable quality that makes one pay attention to every note and phrase. One could call it electricity, but whatever “it” is, she’s got it.
Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 features a prominent role for the solo trumpet, and here, Argerich was joined by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s very able principal trumpet, David Bilger. Witty does not go far enough in describing some aspects of this piece. Some of it is more burlesque or parody than dry wit. But the slow movement, a dreamy waltz, is somber and achingly beautiful. Argerich, Bilger, Dutoit and the Philadelphians turned in a magnificent performance.
While Argerich’s appearance on this program brought me to choose this concert above others, the advance press notices and subsequent review emphasized that this was Dutoit’s first concert as Chief Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Obviously, he is no stranger to the ensemble—a frequent guest conductor since 1980, a former director of the Mann Music Center summer concert series and still the director of the orchestra’s summer series in Saratoga, New York. The orchestra’s rapport with him is evident. They showed it in their subtle ensemble work in the opening work, Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and in the concluding less subtle orchestral showpiece, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel. But the orchestra also made a point of applauding Dutoit at the very beginning of the program, as well as insisting on their own ovation following the stirring performance of Pictures. The orchestra sounded as good as I have every heard them. Dutoit’s four year stint as Chief Conductor may be considered “interim,” but based on Thursday night’s performance, I’m certainly looking forward to these next four years of music making.
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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This fall, the Philadelphia Orchestra is performing several "virtual" concerts, albeit with a sharply reduced size orchestra in order to accommodate social distancing on the Verizon Hall stage. It's better than nothing, but I still miss going to "regular" concerts. Here's a memory from October 2, 2008, 12 years ago on this date. My review was entitled, "Dutoit and Argerich - still a musical duo."
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