This is the first of two articles on the inaugural appearances by Philadelphia Orchestra’s new conductor designate.
Previously on As the Philadelphia Orchestra Turns — strife with Christoph, administrative meltdowns, dwindling attendance, shabby contracts and of course, the dodgy maestro search — the drama was drowning out the music. That was all so yesterday.
On October 29, in Verizon Hall there was there was subdued enthusiasm that this night could be a most auspicious beginning for a new era for The Philadelphia Orchestra with the official debut since he was named chief-conductor designate of Montreal’s Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
The promisingly diverse generational crowd was Radio-Canada’s Sylvia L’Ècuyer who has covered his career since he started in Canada 15 years ago said “what I find interesting is the way he is presenting himself here. He likes to be called Yannick, not Maestro. I arrived on the train this morning, went to the tourist office and the man who was volunteering there asked us why we were in Philadelphia and I told him to see the orchestra and he responded, ‘Yannick! Yes, he’s the buzz of the town.’”
After two years of tumult, this eager audience was ready for proof that this is indeed The One.
He came onstage so relaxed and told the audience he has “We are starting to consume…our love for the music (drawing laughs because he left off the mate in consummate). “we are just now embarking tonight on this wonderful journey, together, artistically. We are offering the alpha and omega of symphonies.” He drew attention to the key trumpet solo in both works and Mahler‘s homage to Haydn. The smart programming displays the technical assets of this orchestra that this conductor is keen on igniting.
Stately and spirited on the surface, Nézet-Séguin unlocked the intriguing foundations of Haydn’s Military Symphony tapping the rhythmic streams in the music. You notice immediately how well he equalizes and spikes the sound in this acoustically volatile hall. In the denser symphonic sections, the orchestra seem to illuminate what Mozart may have given to Haydn and what Haydn gave to Beethoven. Standouts among the players included Jeffrey Kahner’s flute that swooped and swirled inside the orchestral drive.
David Bilger’s trumpet herald and the gathering tempest thundered in on Mahler‘s 5th, promising to be majestic. The follow through with Jennifer Montone’s French horn brimming with revelation. There was ever so slight tentativeness in the scherzo and a little sloshing around the symphonic soup, it was momentary. Mostly all parts were detailed, a squirrelly matrix around those lurching waltz fade ins.
The allegretto was so hushed that any sound in the 2500-seat hall would have completely destroyed. Remarkably there was total silence except for the ethereally clarity of Elizabeth Hainen’s harp and the clean striations in the strings. By the third repeat, the players floated Mahler’s most cathartic waters.
The crescendo in the rondo finale levitated Yannick off the stand, his body oscillating in the sonic power of the music. The dramatic thrust of this orchestra is fully revealed. Yannick’s presence electric- he might not have Muti‘s maestro-divo hair, he makes up for in in his physicality. He bobs and weaves like Ali, dances and emotes like Lenny and obviously is at one with the music and the musicians.
The audience was completely seduced and at the end, the livid applause sounded more like the Met than Verizon Hall. Yannick self mockingly flexed his biceps as people shouted their approval and there seemed to be agreement that at least on this most auspicious night that the Fabulous Philadelphians are back with Yannick out front. Stay-tuned.