The Philadelphia Orchestra
Lukas Geniusas, piano
Tugan Sokhiev, conductor
Verizon Hall | Philadelphia, Nov. 5-6, 2022
(Prelude) ~Five years ago, there were full-throated protests against Russian conductor Valery Gergiev conducting concerts in Verizon Hall. He had already been was dropped from many international orchestras because of the maestro’s very public support Vladimir Putin, who was, among other things, arrested or imprisoned political dissidents, enacted a slate of anti-GLBTQ policies against Russians and had already seized territories in Ukraine.
There were no protests earlier this month against Russian conductor Tugan Sokhiev when he led the Philadelphia Orchestra, with guest soloist Russian pianist Lukas Geniusas. When Putin invaded Ukraine nine months ago, Sokhiev was being pressured by colleagues to condemn the war, but the conductor deflected any full-throated denouncement of Putin’s war in Ukraine, but announced on social media and he had, ”decided to resign from my positions as Music Director of Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Orchester National du Capitole de Toulouse.
Rebuffing any overt political statement, stating “In Europe, today I am forced to make a choice and choose one of my musical family over the other. I am being asked to choose one cultural tradition over the other.” As disarming (or dissembling) as that can be inferred, Sokhiev dodged retribution has sidestepped any overt repercussions here.
The program almost filled Verizon Hall to the rafters on Nov. 5-6 conducting an all-Russian program of Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and starting with lusty horn fanfares of Alexander Borodin’s Overture to Prince Igor, (no Stranger in Paradise idyllic tone-poem here). Sokhiev ramping up the volume of this showpiece as a tune up for the more introspective themes of the Russian masterpieces that followed.
Then Sokhiev’s shaped the lush, evocative orchestral opening of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 1, composed in 1911 by the 22-year-old Sergei’s innovative single movement that gives the soloist room for interpretive artistry, (if they can master the technical requirements) and pianist Lukas Geniusas was, technically and otherwise, inside all of the luminous chambers of this piece. Geniusas’ delivering the concerto’s lightning note clusters and spidery keyboard runs, that in a bar, decrescendo with such delicacy.
Geniusas’ unfussy virtuosity delivering all of the lyrical, dramatic, and energy with this orchestra of this masterpiece. Prokofiev’s cohesive structure foreshadows many of the composer’s symphonic ideas and cathartic dramatic motifs in his ballet scores. In its interplay with the Philadelphia Orchestra proved equally nuanced with outstanding duet passages between Geniusas and by flutist Jeffrey Khaner and oboist Philippe Tondre.
The Philadelphia Orchestra is indelibly identified with the ‘long bowing’ Russian techniques of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic repertory, so it was particularly interesting to hear the 4th shaped by a Russian maestro. Sokhiev conducted sans baton and the energy between the maestro and musicians palpable. The maestro was also very animated on the podium, pivoting and leaning over toward the musicians with lyrical gestures, animated hand dances, sculpting the sounds in the air.
The Pizzicato movement was at its musically wittiest, beyond its initial novelty and the sonics of the Tchaikovsky’s thundering last movement had this audience instantly on their feet with rounds of lusty applause for this performance. Among the outstanding soloists in this performance- David Kim (1st violin) Hai-Ye Ni (cello) Ricardo Morales (clarinet), Jeffrey Khaner (flute), Jennifer Montone (French Horn) Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon), all of the orchestra’s mighty upper & lower strings.