Real fireworks

The heat wave in Philly broke in time for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s return to the Mann Center and their annual Tchaikovsky with Fireworks program. There was a distinct sense of musical occasion since these are conductor Rossen Milanov‘s final weeks as director of the orchestra’s summer series. Milanov was having fun on the podium, rapturously engaged with his musicians and the music.

This concert displayed Milanov’s comprehensive understanding of Tchaikovsky’s music. The opening Polonaise, from Eugene Onegin, pulsed with detailing and musical subtexts that can often be lost in the composer‘s theatricality. Tight counterpoints made the Marche Slave, referencing the Serb folk and Russian musicality, is much clearer under Milanov, than just a military musicale.

Orchestral unity highlighted The Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra. Efe Baltacigil, assistant principal cello, opened up this demanding work with impressive clarity, even with a technical gaffe or two. Mostly, Baltacigil delivered quiet virtuosity, yet not backing away from Tchaikovsky’s soulful interiors.

Milanov is a seasoned ballet conductor and he brings that precise sense of symphonic narrative to the selections from Swan Lake with the audience weighing in with lusty applause during the pauses. It was easy to visualize Odile’s entrance, cygnets dance and especially the Spanish divertissements led by the horniest of trumpeters, David Bilger. Standout performances by flutist David Cramer and Elizabeth Hainen’s glittering harp field that interlocks with Juliette Kang’s haunted gypsy violin.

The sumptuous cello section made the opening passages of the 1812 Overture just as thrilling as those famous cannon crescendos and fire filling the night. A great evening of Tchaikovsky with the fireworks hanging in the city skyline and a full looking moon on the rise.