Phil Orch’s 40/40 Project


Conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin is programming compositions that haven’t been played by the Philadelphia Orchestra for many years. His ‘40/40 Project’ of works that are not in heavy concert rotation, is resulting in compelling program mixes. In October, his Russian program illustrated what this idea is really about, how Nezet-Seguin illustrates musical connections and threads living musical legacies, in this case works by Russian composers Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Aram Khachaturian.

Alexander Glazunov’s ‘The Season’ and Rachmaninoff’s ‘Symphony no. 1’ were composed within a few years of each other in the late 1890s and the third work Khachaturian‘s Piano Concerto premiered in 1936. All huge, bombastic works with wildly different styles, but deeply embedded Russian musical DNA.

The Rachmaninoff Symphony disappeared after its disastrous premiere with Glazunov conducting. Among other mishaps, it was under-rehearsed. Afterward Rachmaninoff suffered a near nervous breakdown and the piece was not played again until 1945 and finally recognized as a masterwork of Russian repertoire. Khachaturian’s concerto suffered a similar premiere disaster in 1936, but much exalted in later performances.

The concert began with Glazunov’s The Seasons a ballet score and by now concert showpiece with glittering surfaces, but the orchestral sub-streams are just as compelling, and that salon waltz gliding in unexpected, in contrast to lead string phalanx spiking through Verizon Hall.

Jean -Yves Thibaudet bounded onstage, collar on his Vivian Westwood up, and game face on to tackle Khachaturian Piano Concerto, a signature work for Canadian pianist. Thibaudet instantly locked into the intense orchestral drama and his piano interplay was commanding from the start. Khachaturian develops is a fiery exchange between piano and orchestra, not a polite concerti dialogue. At times the piano is the percussive drive in this piece. Thribaudet was a man musically possessed with every line detail charging through mach speed keyboard runs punctuated with chromatic density that he kept translucent. Khatchaturian’s Georgian folkloric markers instructively accented by Nezet Seguin. Among the other standout soloist’s Peter Smith’s penetrating oboe line that gives way to the richest sonorities in the cellos.

Rachmaninoff Symphony no. 1 was the well chosen closer and stood up to the other pieces in robustness as a composition and as played, starting with the foreboding symphonic entrance, the orchestra’s brass retooling the acoustics. Rachmaninoff had a vibrant relationship with the Philadelphians and YNS pays homage to this legacy in his altogether vivid performance.

Later in the month, Russian maestro Vladimir Jurowski, principal conductor at London Philharmonic, is also a marquee draw when he guest conducts with the Philadelphians, where he typically elicits a distinct symphonic thrust from the players, which admirably, has nothing to do with volume.

Jurowski is fun to watch he stands bolt upright, with very centered physicality and his minimal moves are hynotic, and more important, you pick of the synergy between the maestro and the musicians. He is reflective of the musical mili-second. He also shows range. This program was book-ended by two sonic works- contemporary British composer Julian Anderson’s classical-jazz symphonics of Stations of the Sun and the metaphysics of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra in its totality. In between, there was the crystalline classicism of Mozart.

Anderson’s Stations contemplates the seasons and the attendant human rituals in observing them. It is a time-lapse tone poem that keeps building in front of our ears. It opens with an upper and lower string pizzicato prologue that intensifies to a ping-ponging sound matrix, enter swirling woodwinds, then Japanese temple bells that cue percussive anarchy with sounds of ratchets, claps, gongs, tubular bells, xylophone, tom-tom and hidden bongo cool polyrhythm . The cross – current orchestral careens intriguingly into jazz symphonia, more Ellingtonian than Gershwinesque, Anderson makes the cross genres cinematic and earthy.

Next, Alina Ibragimova played Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 4 next to Jurowski off the podium encircled by two-dozen musicians for a plush chamber orchestra – size reading. Smart, unfussy conservatoire reading on the Allegro, and in the second movement, Ibragimova with so much line polish and interplay with the other musicians, easily showing interpretive mastery in the solo sections.

From Elvis fans to 200l: A Space Odyssey aficionados everyone knows Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathuthra’ ‘Dawn’ entrance, but there is a lot of music that comes after and Jurowski essays its full, if less dramatically sonic dimension. Also a tone poem in continuous segments- ‘Great Longing, Joys and Passions, Grave Song, etc. this is an epic symphonic arc.

Jurowski put his stamp on the famous opening not letting the organ rumble bottom out as the lingering sound concussive statement, he tightening the tension between the brass and strings. The crescendo is punched through the hall, thrillingly and the pick up of the thread had its own musical physics. Strauss’ structure The folkloric tone poems in the work bloom, with the ‘Dance Song’ another waltz time mise-en-scene appearing magically, David Kim’s lead violin lines just one of many thrilling performances by individual musicians in this piece.