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Philly Falling Hard for Yannick

Academy of Music
06/21/2012 -  & June 23*, 2012
Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (orch. Stokowski)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Suite from the Nutcracker, op. 71 (with Fantasia)
Paul Dukas: Sorcerer’s Apprentice (with Fantasia)
Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (orch. Ramin and Kostal)
Igor Stravinsky: Suite from the Firebird (1919)
Richard Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries

The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

(© Ryan Donnell)

The hottest affair in Philly these days is conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the city’s symphony fans who have been yearning for the fabled days of the Fabulous Philadelphians of Ormandy and Stokowski. The recent storm clouds have parted have parted and Yannick is delivering the mystique and glamour of that legacy even as he makes it clear that he has no intention of being a carbon copy of his predecessors, musically or otherwise, he is obviously his own man on the podium.

He continued to build audience during a robust series of four separate programs over three days that kicks off the orchestra’s “Stokowski Centenary” celebration, playing repertory favorites, in the orchestra‘s former home, the Academy of Music, where they played for a hundred years and Stoki defined “the sound” of the orchestra starting in 1912. Yannick’s capper was the June 23, with the audience, via social media, choice the play list, updating one of Stoki’s traditions.

Nézet-Séguin immersed in a full multi-media package with Cirque du Soleil style light show, the grand chandelier lit in blue, lowered and elevated, as the orchestra, in shadows, appeared behind a scrim. An actor playing Stoki addressed audience from one of the boxes, throwing a baton that sailed via animation to the opposite box where the new conductor was waiting. The real magic started when the scrim was raised and the new maestro stood in front of the orchestra, with the old dusty rose Versailles panels were back on the Academy stage, with Yannick, looking charged on the podium, a moment of imminent musical occasion.

Then, it was right down to musical business with Stokowski’s orchestration of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, which was essayed in its full grandeur- the sonorities supple and most important, equalized in the Academy, which can be tricky. Compelling tempo drives and uber decorated baroque components are two of the maestro’s stamps. As is restraint in the bombastic resolves and sustained orchestral crispness.

Those qualities and more continued for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, in the arrangement from for the Disney film Fantasia played by Stokowski; the film clip was projected above the orchestra, with Nézet-Séguin syncing his arms to Stoki’s image in the film. Then Disney magic, as well as Tchaikovsky’s worked the crowd. Yannick took advantage of showcasing Nutcracker outside of its ballet context, the character detailing in the “Arabian, Chinese, and Russian Dances”, particularly vibrant. It was followed with Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice but Mickey and his broom march upstaged the orchestra this time.

After intermission, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story was the unexpected highlight. This is almost a fail-safe showpiece and rides on its own in many a performance, but Yannick brought so much to it. His feel for jazz orchestral with an edge. Among the standout players, the blue-fire vibes of Anthony Orlando, Jennifer Montone’s golden tone horn and the combined back alley muscle of the entire brass and percussion. Great symphonic swagger in the Mambo section bringing Bernstein to full bloom. Lenny, a part time Fab Philadelphian via the Curtis Institute, where he hung out in the 40s, would approve.

Maybe they spent everything on the streets of New York because after that Stravinsky’s Firebird was all over the place and downright dodgy. This Firebird didn’t soar until mid-flight and then a little desperate in its flight, but the sonic thrust won over the audience enough to for them to stand at its conclusion. The pyrotechnics spilled over to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, but even with Rhine maiden appearing on the columns and the stage was engulfed in video flames, this was all symphonic flash fire with little internal combustion. But the audience was on its feet. Looking relaxed and exhausted, Yannick addressed the audience, introducing Stokowski’s son and continuing to spread good musical will and shameless charm.

Lewis Whittington



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