Conductor Rossen Milanov just finished up his first season as director of Symphony in C, has reinvented himself a bit from the exuberant presence during his tenure as associate conductor at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Not that he isn’t as likeable as ever, but his demeanor is quieter and at performance time he seems laser focused on the music and the musicians.
In fact, even the spotlight on the conductor’s stand dims at the start of each piece they are playing. Symphony in C is a training camp for young professional musicians, who fan out to orchestras around the world.
Milanov and the orchestra were in fine form May 5 for their season closing concert at their home in the acoustically excellent Gordon Theater at Rutgers-Camden Center for Arts.
The concert opened with Roger Zare’s Green Flash which refers to the moment when sunset ends. Zare is the winner of the 2012 Young Composers Competition. The composer conjures vivid atmospherics with exotic percussion and eerie string bends, yet the abstractions are inviting rather than jarring.
The almost inaudible low rumble of the orchestra builds to a sonic density, flares then vanishes, the receding lower strings still humming. It’s an evocative work and Zare was on hand to hear how well it was received.
Green Flash was a fine prelude to György Ligeti’s challenging Concerto for Violin and Orchestra composed in 1993. This is an orchestral thriller in five movements, full of dramatic contrasts and amorphous structures and Ligeti’s violin a dervish of modulating techniques.
Milanov and his orchestra exhibited such clarity and control facing off against the mach speed agility of violin soloist Augustin Hadelich. Ligeti’s density surfs shrillness and Hadelich’s line polish is stunning as he maintains the warmest textures. Mostly he impresses, past virtuosity, as a salt-of-the-earth fiddler, obviously the inner chamber of this work, past its technical requirements.
Meanwhile, the orchestra was completely engaged with the interlocks and overlays masterfully paced with standout percussion, roiling counterpoint from the lower strings and the woodwinds, essaying a primal dissonance in the intermezzo that builds to a shattering off the cliff arrest.
The orchestra may have had a bit of Ligeti afterburn going into Antonín Dvorák’s New World Symphony but Milanov powered through the first movement and leaned on the bombast throughout. This is a wildly popular warhorse but to some, Dvorak’s symphonic hook gets tired after the 5th variation.
Milanov kept up the surface string fireworks at the expense of the more interesting inner drive. In contrast, the brass was tight and reined-in throughout, and in the second movement Largo, there was simmering lushness and its core orchestral serenity, simply spectacular.