Michael Daugherty, Paul Jacobs & conductor Edward Gardner
(uncredited photo courtesy Paul Jacobs FB page)

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

Edward Gardner, conductor

Paul Jacobs, organ

February 27-29, 2020

British conductor Edward Gardner made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut in Verizon Hall leading a rousing performances of works by Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar and a raucous organ concerto by American composer Michael Daugherty. Gardner is in demand on concert and opera stages all over the world is the conductor designate for the London Symphony Orchestra starting in 2021. His three concerts with The Philadelphians showed the many reasons why.

There were several of empty seats in Verizon Hall in for the first concert one guesses because of a week of scary news about the Corona virus, but those in attendance were obviously very glad to be there.

Gardner was all business striding on the podium in Verizon Hall and launching into  ‘Sinfonia de Requiem. A piece the 26 year of Britten composed in part to honor his parents, as well as an anti-war statement from a committed British pacifist. It was composed in the US when Britten followed poet W.H.Auden to the US to sidestep the gathering war clouds in Europe. Britten, ironically, was commissioned by Japan for the work , which was meant to premiere at an official ceremony in 1939, but Japan rejected the work and in view of the coming war, Britten was lucky they did.

Britten’s sinfonia pays homage to classical requiems within less shrouded symphonics. The opening movement a brooding symphonic gravity but more than musical grieving. The ‘Dies irae’ a progressive orchestral polemic, of the brass heralds and percussive trajectory that decrescendos into orchestral fragmentation chaos, punctuated with ominous arrests. The precision and thrust of the percussion and brass, all the way down the line was breathtaking.  The final movement (requiem aetermam) with its lyrical voicings of the woodwinds of unresolved serenity or meditation. Gardner led the orchestra with precision and passion that is prescient to many of the composers later music and themes.

For many, Michael Daugherty’s Once Upon a Castle was the big surprise of the night for its musical portrait newspaper titan William Randolph Hearst, immortalized in Orson Welles’ film classic Citizen Kane.

 Gardner contours its showpiece qualities, and details all of the dramatized themes. Paul Jacobs is a champion of new music and Daugherty’s organ is the Hearst/Kane protagonist that ignites thrilling dynamics the rest of the orchestra. 

The first movement The Winding Road to San Simeon– has a speedy (as in motoring) panoramic atmosphere. Then Neptune Pool a reflective tone poem and at its center an intoxicating jazz noir trumpet solo Then Rosebud, named for the infamous sled, which symbolized Kane’s tragic flaw that haunted everything Kane did. the finale, The vampy climax ‘Xanadu’ inspires gothica musical dark shadows of the castle. Jacobs is an organ virtuoso and he literally pulled out all of the stops with this work.

But just as enchanting were the delicate mis-en-scenes of Patrick Williams flute lines and the stunning trumpet solo by Peter Curnow The audience on their feet with lusty applause and Jacobs gave even more with the classically lusty Passacaglia J.S. Bach for an encore.

 The closer was a repertory favorite of The Philadelphians and Gardner put his own stamp on it. For many, Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations is revelatory moments, one might hear in its chambers the soul searching musicality of Elgar. The pastorals, the dance music, the stately dignity and out of the blue its pulsing symphonic heart variation titled Nimrod. Philadelphia Orchestra consistently performs the piece with exacting detail, giving each variation equal luster.  And Gardner bringing sonic balance even with a skittish entrance leading into the profound dimensions of Nimrod.

Gardner’s tempo adjustments and The Philadelphia strings vivid depth of sound that just goes through the body. Among the many outstanding soloist included principals Hai-Ye Ni (cello) David Kim (violin) and Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon).