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Trifonov mesmerizes in Bates’ concerto

Verizon Hall
01/14/2022 -  & January 15*, 16, 2022
Mason Bates: Piano Concerto
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35

Daniil Trifonov (piano)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

Y. Nézet-Séguin, M. Bates, D. Trifonov (© Pete Checchia)

Yannick Nézet-Séguin was back in Verizon Hall Jan. 14-16 to kick off the second half of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2021-22 season with the premiere of composer Mason Bates’ Piano Concerto performed by Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. The concerto a co-commission by the Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony. Verizon Hall was a little more than half-filled for the Jan. 15 performance during the coldest weekend so far this winter in Philly. But the empty seats were undoubtedly due to renewed audiences hesitancy to return the concert halls amid the current Covid-Omicron surge. Everyone was vax-checked, masked as were most of the musicians, the soloist and conductor.

The opening moments of Bates’ concerto is a burst of reeds and crystalline percussion that is trailed by Daniil Trifonov sharp, meditative piano solo, the effect instantly conjures journeying atmospherics. Bates mixes musical spectrals from different eras – sonorous pizzicato strums of the strings echo baroque mandolin of the first movement, for instance, and later evocations of 19th century romanticism. The atmospherics expand and contract, as Bates’ blooms with to cinematic tone poetics and sonic orchestral clusters. Trifonov delivers Bates’ introspective piano musing with stellar technical artistry.

The concerto’s jazz-classical dynamics bloom in the back half of the unpaused three movements. In the program note, Bates explains that during the second movement’s narrative subtext, the winds, coax the piano soloist out of melancholy. Whether you know that subtext or not, it is a rapturous dialogue. Trifonov’s cadenza passages have the warmth of Chick Corea. His long hair hiding flopping over his facemask, in a hypnotizing command of the artistic language of this piece.

The Philadelphia Orchestra performed Bates Anthology of Fantastic Zoology debuted in 2018 and 8 a forest of feral orchestral effects, and beyond the cinematic dazzle, it has so much dynamic interplay and immediacy with the players. This is also the case with this piano concerto is full of musical ideas and exemplar of his dynamic fusion of musical genres. Bates composed this piano concerto during the 20-21 global crisis, and it is an expansive, enigmatic musical statement that reflects this unprecedented time. Trifonov will perform the concert on tour at New Jersey Symphony, The Israel Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony.

The program’s concert closer was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which has been in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s repertoire since 1906. Scheherazade tells the tale of a woman in enslaved in a harem, who is keeping herself alive by telling the Sultan a new story from Tales of 1001 Nights. A gruesome scenario indeed, but one that the composer transformed it into a dazzling symphonic tone poem and a showpiece for the lead violin, as the voice of Scheherazade, whose melodic theme (and variations) are strung out dramatically throughout the piece. The passage is a potent orchestral hook that extends over 50 minutes.

Even with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian folkloric mysticism, at 50 minutes, with dazzling fanfares and orchestral drama, if it is vamped for effect, it can cloy. Not an issue as Nézet-Séguin conducts it like the showpiece it is, but the details under the orchestral drama are iridescent. The lead violin lines sumptuous performed by David Kim and the duet passages with harpist Elizabeth Hainen transcendent. Among the other outstanding soloists, Jenifer Montone (horn), Jeffrey Khaner (flute), Erica Peel (piccolo), Ricardo Morales (clarinet), Philippe Trondre (oboe), Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon), Hai-Ye Ni (cello).

This program was filmed and will be shown on Philadelphia Orchestra’s Digital Stage on April 27 and May 4.

Lewis Whittington



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