Conductor: Michael Tilson Thomas
Brahms: Piano Concerto No 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 - Hélène Grimaud
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
Although the French are not particularly well-known for their tremendous musical heritage, once in a while a major work emerges that takes the whole world by storm and eventually becomes an ever-recurring staple in concert halls. Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique having indisputably reached that rare status, my friend Linden and I were originally very excited at the prospect of hearing it performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of their young dynamo of a music director and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin on Friday night. Then earlier in the week we received the notice that maestro Nézet-Séguin would not be able to travel to New York City due to illness and would be replaced by not quite as young, but just as much of a dynamo, Michael Tilson Thomas.
We were also informed that Brahms' Piano Concerto No 2 had just been replaced by Brahms' Piano Concerto No 1, but thankfully France's first piano lady Hélène Grimaud would still be there to play it. So we decided to take all those changes in stride and happily headed off to Carnegie Hall on a miserable Friday evening, which instantly got better up as soon as we took our seats into the near-full Stern Auditorium.
Opening with some sweeping Sturm und Drang straight from the most majestic Romantic symphonies, Brahms' Piano Concerto No 1 turned out to be a sprawling, supremely life-affirming conversation between piano and orchestra, which would be continuously punctuated by urgent outbursts and dreamy interludes. A fierce performer underneath her classy looks, Hélène Grimaud was all virtuosic fire and exquisite daintiness, a combination that responded particularly well to the orchestra's polished sound and boundless enthusiasm.
Still in a Romantic, if by then wildly mischievous, mood, we moved on to Berlioz and his brilliantly ground-breaking Symphonie fantastique. Although I've had the privilege of hearing it regularly throughout the years, the endless inventiveness of the work never fails to make it a brand new experience each and every time. MTT may have been a late addition to the program, but he was nevertheless solidly in control of the complex composition and the huge orchestra, constantly stressing out the small details while never losing sight of the mighty big picture. This Symphonie fantastique was a vibrantly colorful depiction of the "Épisode in the life of an artist" and resoundingly reasserted its freshness and relevance.
The weather was still miserable when we got out, but the weekend had definitely started off very well.