The title of this review was: "Between thunderclaps, Philadelphians and Jennifer Koh shine"
Summer concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Music Center are never completely free from distractions. Located on a hill in Fairmount Park in West Philadelphia, and open on three sides, this venue is prone to the sounds of the city, including police and fire sirens. On Wednesday night, Nature provided the distractions. Just before the concert began, a fierce thunderstorm blew in to the area, and just as the musicians were warming up, two direct lightning hits landed just next to (or on the roof of?) the structure. Audience and musicians were startled by the tremendous noise. Yes, we were under cover, and (we presumed) in a lightning-protected structure, but it was unnerving, nevertheless. What did this foretell for the concert ahead?
Rossen Milanov, the evening’s conductor, came out on stage, thanking the audience for coming out on such a night, and tried to soothe us with a viola joke...something about how viola players were like lightning—never striking twice in the same place.
The concert began with a stirring rendition of that old favorite, Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger. How many times has the Philadelphia Orchestra played this work? It’s still a joy to hear this when well played, as it was this evening. Some rumbles of thunder were heard, and the rain poured down, but not enough to detract from the performance.
Next was the work that brought me to this concert—Sibelius’ darkly beautiful Violin Concerto. This was my first opportunity to hear Jennifer Koh, a Curtis Institute graduate and a Tchaikovsky Competition winner. I would say that she played brilliantly…but “brilliant” is not the right word for this concerto. The lower strings dominate for soloist and orchestra, and the melodic lines are passionate, intense, and melancholic. Whatever the right words are to describe the qualities needed to perform this concerto, Koh had them. This was a deeply satisfying performance. Again, Nature cooperated until just after the performance ended, when a huge burst of thunder shook the arena.
The evening concluded with my favorite Brahms Symphony, No. 4. This is another piece which the Philadelphians have performed hundreds of times over the years, and it’s a work which is well suited to their sound. It was an opportunity to enjoy this Symphony on every level—its sensual delights, melodic and harmonic richness, and complex but coherent structure.
But I must add a word about Rossen Milanov, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Associate Conductor and the Artistic Director of the Mann summer series. He is a puzzle. He is not a pleasing conductor to watch in motion. He is prone to jerky movements, and gestures which don’t match the rhythm of the orchestra. But it is clear that the musicians have figured him out, and together, they produced fine performances of these three great works.
As we left the Center in search of our car in the grassy parking field, the storm had let up. If the storm had continued, it would have been an ordeal to find and extract our car from a dark and muddy field. But it turned out to be another successful evening at the Mann—just enough cooperation from Nature to allow enjoyment of the music, and to make our way home without problems.