Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Beethoven: Overture to King Stephen
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major., Op. 15 - Jeremy Denk
Stravinsky: "The Firebird
Although the Lincoln Center is located at a totally manageable distance from my apartment, my visits to the Avery Fisher Hall are few and far between, this state of affairs being definitely due to the space itself and not to the performers appearing in it. Therefore, when the typically reliable New York Philharmonic boasts of headliners like Esa-Pekka Salonen and Jeremy Denk, two of the most exciting and multi-talented music men of our times, there is little doubt that a visit must be paid.
I first thought that the program, which included Beethoven and Stravinsky, was rather conventional for such tirelessly adventurous artists, but I also quickly figured that they could be trusted to put their very own spin on it. So I went.
The concert started with a solid rendition of Beethoven's overture to King Stephen, which immediately established the seamless connection between conductor and orchestra.
Unbelievably enough, Thursday night was the very first time that endlessly versatile and much in demand New York pianist Jeremy Denk performed with the New York Philharmonic. The occasion was Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 1 (which was actually his second one, but never mind), and as soon as Denk made his entrance with his trademark subtle virtuosity, it was obvious that he had fully conquered the work, the orchestra and conductor, and the audience. This early concerto sparkles with the youthful impetuosity and remarkable maturity to be expected from a 25-year old composer already on his way to becoming one of the biggest names in the classical repertoire. Classical elegance combined with Romantic passion through delicate musings, a seductive air of mystery, but also clear brightness and sheer determination. All of this, and so much more, including Beethoven's own cadenzas, was on full display on Thursday night under the accomplished fingers of Jeremy Denk, whose flawless technique allowed him to merrily focus on the pure joy of playing. This was a long-overdue debut that would unquestionably go down in history as a complete success as could attest, if nothing else, the tremendous ovation from the audience.
The festive mood not only lingered, but also expanded to new heights with Stravinsky and an explosive "Firebird", during which Salonen guided the more than willing musicians and audience into the Russian fairy tale featuring a dashing prince, an evil king, a beautiful princess and an all-powerful Firebird. Confidently drawing with broad, vibrantly colorful strokes while still superbly bringing out the tiniest details, such as delicately emphasizing the sweet tenderness of the "Berceuse" and unleashing all possible furies for the "Infernal Dance", expertly mixing elaborate technical intricacies, energetic folk rhythms and take-no-prisoners Romantic emotions, he put together an all-around electrifying performance. The various solos were all spot-on, and the whole orchestra flamboyantly showed what kind of sweepingly beautiful music it can make when playing a magnificent work for a conductor it evidently loves and respects. And if the extraordinary musical experience we had just witnessed had not been enough proof, it made its feelings crystal clear when, after Salonen came back on the stage during the on-going ovation and signaled the musicians to get up again, they all spontaneously and whole-heartedly started clapping for him instead, happily joining into the well-deserved unanimous love fest.