Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, Op. 37a (arr. Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Vadim Gluzman: Violin
Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is one of those all-around perfect classics that it is simply impossible to get enough of, and that is just what I was thinking as I was buying tickets for a performance of it one more time a couple of weeks ago. This time, however, my primary motivation was to introduce my visiting Neapolitan friend Vittorio to Carnegie Hall, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to do it than with one of the most beloved masterpieces of the Italian repertoire, which would be performed by the highly regarded, conductor-less Orpheus Orchestra to boot. As we all know, first impressions are everything.
And since the four seasons of the year in all the ever-changing variables are an endlessly adaptable topic, the concert would open with the world premiere of a new arrangement of Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, therefore deftly combining something old and something new while sticking to the same theme. Because, why not?
So it is with high expectations that after a very satisfying Friday evening at the Met for a splendid Porgy and Bess and a rainy but still fun Saturday, we sat down in the parquet section of the august Stern Auditorium, among an audience that was clearly made of a lot of friends and family of the popular New York-based ensemble.
A set of twelve miniatures for solo piano describing the different months of the year in Russia, Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons is no stranger to being arranged, and there it was again on Saturday night by composers and violinists Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth. Although June and November had inexplicably been dropped from the list, the other 10 months displayed a wide range of engaging moods that were heightened by the committed playing.
But it is likely that the majority of the audience in the hall were there for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and their patience was immensely rewarded by the effortlessly glowing performance that followed the intermission. Led by frequent collaborator Vadim Gluzman, incidentally a former Isaac Stern protégé, the small but potent orchestra made sure to bring out the fierce virtuosity as well as the perennial freshness of the two-century-old work with all guns blazing.
On Saturday evening, the natural wonders and eloquent details of the passing seasons beautifully came out, bringing us full circle with nuance (The various birds in the spring), intensity (The mighty storms in the summer), fun (The drunken dancers in the fall) and starkness (The unforgiving ice in the winter). That was definitely the kind of experience that makes one understand why the iconic score has transcended time and space to inconspicuously and not so inconspicuously seep into pop culture in so many different ways.
Since the concert had had an early start time and we let the musicians know in no uncertain terms that we were not ready to let them go just yet, Gluzman and the Orpheus treated us to a little bit more Vivaldi, just for the heck of it. Bravi!