Category Archives: PHiladelphia Orchestra

Xian Zhang’s fresh Beethoven Ninth at Mann

Philadelphia Orchestra, Xian Zhang, conducting, Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, the Choral) Othalie Graham, soprano, Margaret Mezzacappa, mezzo-soprano, Zach Borichevsky, tenor, Luis Ledesma, baritone, The Philadelphia Singers Chorale, David Hayes, music director. J.S. Bach. Concerto for Two Violins & String Orchestra , Juliette Kang, violin, Kimberly Fisher, violin.  Mann Music Center, June 27, 2012, Review for WRTI, 90.1 fm

Beethoven’s Ninth (Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, “Choral)”, is so familiar we almost don’t hear the notes – waiting for the singers!  Chinese-American conductor Xian Zhang used the Choral Symphony as her calling card with the Philadelphia Orchestra Wednesday night.  Her program of Beethoven and J.S. Bach opened the orchestra’s six- concert series at the Mann in Fairmount Park. Her Beethoven was fresh and focused. As focused as the unidentified bird that chirped through a stretch of the Scherzo, like a scat singer doing syncopation. Zhang, born in 1973, is the music director of Milan’s Gisueppe Verdi Symphony.  She led from memory.

Zhang’s leadership was dynamic no push- pull theatrics with the famous score. She’s got discernment. One mentor was Lorin Maazel. The strings that play so large a part had clarity in every register, violin themes and murmurs, the cellos and basses’ dark alacrity. The Scherzo’s stops and starts compelled; assertions not aggressiveness: when the theme returned it was the better for not being simply louder. There was more instrumental delight from horns and winds and Peter Smith’s oboe. The slow movement came like a breeze. By now the soloists had walked on stage.  Now it gets real, someone in the audience said.  Wrong.

Wednesday’s soloists were quality, Tenor Luis Ledesma began with a confidence and tone he didn’t quite sustain; baritone Zach Borischevsky and mezzo-soprano Margaret Mazzecappa were good choices. Othalie Graham’s soprano had pitch problems. All of the quartet sounded under-rehearsed. The  backup was the thriller – Philadelphia Singers Chorale could sing the finale to the Ninth upside down. Wednesday squeezed on stage behind the instrumentalists their joy thrilling. That inspiration was oddly lacking from all concerned when excellent principals Juliette Kang and Kimberly Fisher opened with J.S. Bach’s Concerto For Two Violins and String Orchestra in D Minor.  An auto pilot version of music that could have been so much more. Clearly the maestra’s attention had been on Beethoven.

Dutoit’s Last Stand: Elektra in concert

The Philadelphia Orchestra: Richard Strauss, Elektra, Op. 58,  Charles Dutoit, conductor, Eva Johannson, soprano, Melanie Diener, Mezzo-soprano, (Chrysothemis), Jane Hernschel (Klytamnestra), Ain Anger, bass (Oreste), Siegfried Jerusalem, Tenor (Aegisth), Jessica Klein, Soprano (Klytamenstra’s Confident), Allison Sanders Soprano (Klytamenstra’s Trainbearer), John Easterlin Tenor (Young Servant), Brandon Cedel, Bass-Baritone, (Orest’s Tutor), Susan Neves, Soprano (overseer), Kathryn Day, Mezzo–soprano, (First Maid) , Laura Vlasak Nolen, Mezzo-soprano (second Maid), Maria Zifchak, Mezzo-soprano (Third Maid), Priti Gandhi, Soprano (Fourth Maid), Jennifer Check, Soprano (Fifth Maid), Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia (Men Servants, Maid Servants), Alan Harler, Artistic Director. Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, May 10 & May 12, 2012, Review of May 10 for WRTI, 90. 1 fm.

What a night at the opera Charles Dutoit gave us at Verizon Thursday. Richard Strauss’s Elektra in concert with The Philadelphians,  Eva Johansson  in the title role. Hugo van Hofmannstahl’s take on Sophocles puts you in the thick of the dysfunctional, timeless family. The perfect librettist, as Strauss often told him.

Thursday’s performance was spellbinding.  Not a mediocre voice in the cast of 15.  Johannson,  looking rightfully obsessive proved her stamina in a role that has her singing nearly an hour and a half and with tremendous force as well as lyricism. Melanie Diener, as Elektra’s  cautious sister, was extremely appealing,  vocally and in her  interactions with Johannson. The two were persuasive sisters.  Jane Henschel was the very bad mom, Klytemnestra. The mezzo voice conveyed rage, doubt, manipulation, in multiple She’s the character you love to hate and she didn’t miss the offstage shouts and whispers either.

As Klytemestra’s lover, Seigfried Jerusalem has a walk- on role before he gets the literal axe and the tenor made the most of it. Opera lovers in the house were in goose-bump mode watching a famous Wagnerian Siegfried deliver this part. Estonian Bass Ain  Anger, as Orestes, had a beautiful bearing and tone  in the role of the missing brother to the tormented Elektra. Their scene  was deeply poignant.

Elektra requires a giant orchestra; the Philadelphians almost overflowed the stage. Eight horns, four clarinets, three bassoons, contrabassoon, six trumpets….. you get the idea. The sound was exciting and ominous.  Elektra and Orestes revenge the death of their father by killing his unfaithful and murderous wife, their mother. Messy, old story. Leave it to Strauss to let the music  soar – just when you think things can’t darker or more dissonant. Then come the strings to ravish or those wisps of flute.

Elektra in concert is maestro Dutoit’s swan song as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s chief conductor here. When he returns in 2012-2013 season, Dutoit will be laureate, a title he richly deserves.

Multi-media Tchaikovsky at Verizon

Beyond the Score: Pure Melodrama? An exploration of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.  4, with the Philadelphia Orchestra,  Jaap van Zweden, conductor, Fred Child, narrator, Leonard C. Haas, actorVerizon Hall, Kimmel Center, April 19, 2012. Review for WRTI, 90.1 fm.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Unless it’s worth 1,000 notes. Beyond the Score, a multi-media project conceived by the Chicago Symphony to immerse newcomers with more than just the music is a good concept. We’ve enjoyed this kind of program before at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Thursday night, the score to get into and beyond at Verizon was Tchaikovsky’s  Fourth.   Fred Child, of American Public Radio, narrated and Leonard Haas acted incidents concerning the  life and process of one of the Russian master’s greatest works. (They did a good job.) Love, depression, marriage, homosexuality, these were factors.  So was Tolstoy’s influence and the dominant theatrical value of the time, melodrama. Beyond the Score, uses a screen directly above the orchestra stage. As  Childs and Haas traded remarks — the screen above the Philadelphians projected a narrative, often art scenes or characters from fiction.  This one was a bit like watching a PBS biography of a composer to his own live accompaniment. Thirty minutes might have held my complete attention. But an hour of show, tell and quotation can girdle the imagination.  I looked forward to the music on it’s own, and conductor Jaap van Zweden didn’t disappoint. The fate symphony, written in such anguish, caught fire early and never lost momentum.  Many subtleties were also captured.  The melancholy second movement, opening with Dick Woodhams’ oboe was every bit as as lovely as the pastoral landscapes on screen. Another pleasure of this concert was the preponderance of happy young people filling the hall.  I spoke to high school band students from Mechanicsville, Va., and college students signed on for the orchestra’s Meet & Greet reception. . Some one in marketing: Nice work.

Principals’ heros in Orchestra matinee

The Philadelphia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, conducting, James Ehnes, violin, Verizon Halll, Kimmel Center, February 9-11, 2012, Review of Feb. 10m for WRTI, 90.1 fm.

Canadian James Ehnes (pronounce Innes) has a winning tone and presence that made his Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin in E Minor, Op. 64 with the Philadelphians a particular pleasure Friday afternoon at the Kimmel Center.

The young man looked at ease in his grey suit and red tie — no fuss no bother –and that’s how the music sounded as he bowed out the familiar, flowing melodies, and that engaging Allegro  finale.

As elegant and unfussy were the six men and hornist Jennifer Montone  who walked on first at Verizon Hall  for Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Percussion and String Orchestra. The Swiss work, composed in 1949, is a knockout  – elegant and by turns ebullient and the orchestra principals played the heck out of it.

Lttle needs be repeated about the excellence of Jeffrey Khaner’s flute or Richard Woodhams’s sterling oboe.  Ricardo Montales’s clarinet on Friday was also way past snuff; Daniel Matsukawa’s  bassoon was especially poignant. To Montone’s attentive horn add the luster of Nitzan Haroz’s trombone. Haroz leaves us in August when he takes a post with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a terrible loss.  Principal trumpet David Bilger also performed. Bilger goes off and on to a teaching post in another state but the hope is he will remain with the Philadelphians.

The Board and this community must step up the game to keep the Philadelphians Orchestra intact and competitive.

Bartok’s bold Concerto  for Orchestra  was the after- intermission guest. Charles Dutoit led its leaps and turns and tumult  – grandly and securely.

Fa la la… Orchestra mixes it up for Xmas

The Glorious Sound of Christmas, Philadelphia Orchestra, Rossen Milanov, cond., Mendelssohn Choir,  Alan Harler, director, soloists from the Curtis Institute and Academy of Vocal Arts;  Pat Carriocchi, narrator. Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Dec. 15-17, 2011, Review of Dec. 17 for WRTI, 90. 1 fm.

To celebrate its 10th year at the Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra wanted to include the musical community in its annual Christmas concert at Verizon Hall, maestro Rossen Milanov told the cheerful crowd at Verizon Hall Saturday night. The Mendelsohn Club offered a selection of carols, J.S. Bach (from The Mass in B Minor) and Handel;  pretty women from the Curtis Institute bowed away at Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor.

The Glorious Sound of Christmas was a potpourri of musical entertainment. Excerpts from The Nutcracker included two arrangements by Ellington and Strayhorn that showed bassist Mike Shaham and clarinetist Sam Caveziel’s gifts of improv and guest saxophone player Larry McKenna. On the other end of sentiment, newscaster Pat Carriocchi  narrated (very well) “The Night Before Christmas.” Whomever put together the orchestra’s holiday program took the kitchen sink approach.

The famous opening  scene from La Boheme was enacted on stage.  Curtis soprano Elizabeth Zharoff and AVA tenor Zach Borischevsky have superb voices. They did a terrific job staying in character through the long scene in front of maestro Milanov. They had some trouble powering  over the orchestra – which is to be expected -most Mimis and Rodolfos do not sing at these posts! Borischevsky was singing at the 11th hour for the tenor who took ill.

Nice to hear the Mendelsohnians whose esprit is unrivaled. The after- intermission number, Bass’s Gloria was richly legato.

Milanov is a smooth leader and genial host. Peter Conti at the organ did a fine job and  how swell his essential instrument looked with the colored pipes mimicking holiday ornaments.

Next up- gifted women worth knowing: English leader Jane Glover’s “Messiah,” and young Sarah Hicks’ Viennese New Years’ program.

Yannick, Yaja, Jen Higdon

  • Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, cond., Yaja Wang, piano
  • Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
  • Dec. 8-11, 2011, Review of Dec. 8 on WRTI, 90.1 fm

The program that music-director -in-waiting Yannick Nezet-Seguin chose this week was energy from the get-go. Jen Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra opened, its five movements challenging the Philadelphians and its audience to attention. Higdon’s exciting work was more rambunctious than I remember in  Nezet-Seguin’s reading; more extrovert than even the extrovert composer herself but the orchestra’s centennial commission  remains  a score of glow and substance.  Higdon tailored the concerto to the Philadelphians’ many gifts, the second movement highlights strings; the third, woodwinds; during Thursday night’s performance, I was partial to the  jam session for keyed percussion created by the final movements.   Piano, celesta, wood blocks, xlyophone, vibraphone – and more – are mysteriously evoked in this slowly escalating chiming music.

When Yaja Wang came out, her red dress warmed us. The 24- year- old pianist has warmed considerably on stage. She smiles now, looks friendlier than she did onstage a season ago. The virtuosity is unquestioned! Thursday night Wang lit into the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.  The ivories glittered.  Rachmaninoff’s chords thundered. There were elastic pauses.  The Curtis graduate, from Beijing plays like she’s hungry – for the keys.  When she’d gobbled the variations – except the popular slow theme –  the house roared its approval.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2 in C Minor, Opus 17 was the second half. The “Little Russian.” It opens with the brass proving wonderfully stalwart. The strings take things down a notch or two for a gentle march. There’s a graciousness to the young work. And optimism. As they had during the Higdon,  the families of the orchestra showed their prowess. When it was over, the house was electric. After the bows, Yannick led a bit of The Nutcracker. Perfect.