Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Gabriela Lena Frank: Concertino Cusqueño
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major - Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Succeeding in making a good impression the first time out is of course of paramount importance, but then comes the challenge of at least sustaining, even surpassing it the second time around. Because there is always room for improvement, right? That's one of the reasons I was so much looking forward to hearing Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra again at Carnegie Hall on Friday night after attending his memorable debut in the prestigious concert hall earlier this season.
Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring may seem very far from Verdi's Requiem, but both have a grand theatricality to them that seems just perfectly suited for the youthful energy and thoughtful musicianship of the orchestra's new music director. So let's see. And since Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major was going to add some sophisticated French flair to the evening, all seemed to fall into place for a well-deserved enjoyable evening for my friend Linden and me.
The first piece on the program was Gabriela Lena Frank's Concertino Cusqueño, a short and pleasant movement that successfully matches Peruvian culture, with the first few notes of a religious tune, and Benjamin Britten, with the opening notes of his violin concerto. Composed with the Philadelphia Orchestra's appointment of Yannick Nézet-Séguin in mind, the result is earthy and elegant, both qualities being brightly enhanced by the totally committed treatment the score received from the orchestra.
Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major brazenly flaunts its composer's love for jazz via a myriad of more or less conspicuous details and is for sure a breath of fresh air in the piano concerto répertoire. And who could better embody the French's love for American jazz than man of the world and pianist extraordinaire Jean-Yves Thibaudet? Well-known for his fierce talent and boundless versatility, he was the perfect interpreter for a piece that requires the technical skills of a classical virtuoso and the organic coolness of a jazz cat. Definitely in tune in every possible way, orchestra and soloist were clearly having a ball, which resulted in an endlessly fun ride for all.
Even as it is about to reach the ripe old age of 100, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring still amazes by its freshness and radicalism. And chances are that 100 years from now, it will still be heralded as a composition of unique transformative power. Any chance of hearing it in a concert hall is a true gift, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra made sure to rise up to the daunting challenge by making the work come vibrantly alive, from the ferocious violin attacks to the resounding timpani outbursts. The impeccably polished, boldy primitive sounds coming from the stage magnificently highlighted the novelty of the work and created a flamboyantly colorful performance of it. The quieter moments were not forgotten either, and rose with all due delicacy and eeriness, surreptitiously hinting at the revolutionary musical explosion they were part of.
The ovation was so long and heart-felt that it earned us an encore that could not have been more appropriate: An arrangement of Stravinsky’s "Pastorale", which Leopold Stokowski wroted for the Philadelphia Orchestra. A lovely trip to memory lane for the orchestra as well as a delightful tribute to the composer's eclectic talent.