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Musical Smiles of a Summer Night

Verizon Hall
09/18/2019 -  
Richard Strauss: Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier”, Op. 59
Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata: “E strano!... Ah, fors’e lui... Sempre libera”
Pauline Oliveros: Four Meditations for Orchestra: 2. “The Tuning Meditation”
Selections by Jerry Bock, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and Richard Rodgers

Adela Zaharia, Audra McDonald (sopranos), Andy Einhorn (piano), Mark Vanderpoel (bass), Gene Lewin (drums)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

A. McDonald (© Courtesy of Philadelphia Orchestra)

The gala concert evening in Verizon Hall kicked off the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2019-2020 season on Sept 18. Yannick Nézet-Séguin sporting a close-crop blonde hair for the occasion and looking très élégant in silky tails. It was the most well attended in over a decade, he boasted to the crowd of 1,900. The formal attired after concert reception bring in $725,000. The crowd sipping champagne, and eleganza with fashion forward opera couture, and representative of a diverse city and distinctly younger crowd than in years past.

In August, the Orchestra withdrew its invitation from Plácido Domingo, the scheduled headliner the day after AP published the explosive story of charges of sexual misconduct against Domingo. The switch didn’t dampen the mood at the gala with soprano Adela Zaharia and Broadway superstar Audra McDonald taking the stage as the guest soloists.

Nézet-Séguin opened with the Suite from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier turning on all of its orchestral fireworks. Yannick made it the grandest of orchestral showpieces. The horns particularly lustrous, in their dramatic precision and stellar solo passages by violinist David Kim, and oboist Peter Smith’s.

Ms. Zaharia sang the central aria in Verdi’s La Traviata, not an easy scene even when it is framed by a full production, and is even more demanding in a stand-alone performance. Vocally, Zaharia commanded, with luminous technical artistry, even as her gestural acting came over as too self-conscious, hardly a criticism in a concert setting.

Yannick introduced Pauline Oliveros’ “The Tuning Meditation” perhaps as an invocation for the coming season with the orchestra’s long overdue focus on women composers. A real-time instrument and voice experimental piece by the visionary Oliveros, eliciting vocals from audience for an improvised tone poem – a music version of what we call in dance ‘contact improv.’ The musicians first playing continuous disparate notes and picking up frequencies from each other – then the audience doing the same thing with their voices, Yannick conducting the humming frequencies, and then cueing the voices of dissonance. The sound harmonies, and the symbolism of the dissenting notes, was not lost on this game audience.

Then Audra McDonald captivated this audience with a range of Broadway showstoppers show music, and as Yannick noted, “Audra can sing it all.” Ms. McDonald floated onstage wearing a gorgeous blue silk gown, she launched into a the hilarious “I’m Gorgeous” from Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s The Apple Tree. McDonald had her trio with her, drummer Glen Lewin, bassist Mark Vanderpoel, and musical director/pianist Andy Einhorn, clearly ready to calibrate with the Philadelphians to frame McDonald’s wide ranging artistry. McDonald starred in the 2012 Broadway revival of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and on this night brings a full character to “Summertime” with blues luster through a shimmering soprano. A fine medley of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” introducing the songs written in different eras but caring the same message of racial and civil intolerance based on bigotry.

McDonald said the Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolf Green standard “Make Someone Happy” was her “mantra” and sang the old standard with such heart and soul that it was like hearing it for the first time. And she also inspired a full-throated sing-along, saying that everybody knew the words to Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s classic “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.

The star joked with the audience about being cast as the Abbess in The Sound of Music but brought the house to its feet with a powerful performance of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which brought everyone to their feet. A large portion of the audience staying for the formal dinner reception in the cordoned off Commonwealth Plaza in the Kimmel Center, the rest of us floating out into a beautifully cool late summer night.

Lewis Whittington



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