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Philadelphia Orchestra celebrates Deutsche Grammophon

Verizon Hall
12/09/2023 -  
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C‑sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 (orch. Stokowski)
Florence Price: Adoration for string orchestra (orch. Gray)
Maurice Ravel: Tzigane – Piano Concerto in G major: 2. Adagio & 3. Presto
Fritz Kreisler: Caprice viennois (orch. McAlister)
Moby: Everloving (orch. Twist) – Hymn – Porcelain (orch. Knoth)
George Frideric Handel: Sarabande, HWV 437 (arr. Moby, orch. Knoth)
Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird (Suite, 1919): Finale

Maria Duenas (Violin), Hélène Grimaud (Piano), Moby (Musician/Vocalist)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet‑Séguin (Conductor)

H. Grimaud, Y. Nézet‑Séguin (© Jessica Griffin)

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s concert in celebration of Deutsche Grammophon’s 125th Anniversary played to an all but sold‑out Verizon Hall on December 9th. Music director conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin opened the event brandishing the Philadelphia Orchestra’s latest Grammy Award for their recording of Florence Price symphonies on the DG label. He praised the company’s standard of excellence and the company’s commitment to classical and contemporary repertory, and building a living archive for generations of composer, musicians, conductors, and orchestras.

Hélène Grimaud was the guest soloist on three other concerts with the orchestra and part of the DG125 one‑night‑only performance with two other DG recording artists–the dynamic Spanish violinist Maria Duenas and alt‑rock vocalist Moby. Even with this intriguing guest line‑up, or because of it, the program had the feel of being rather hastily pulled together, but still delivering many highlights.

The concert opened with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor (composed when he was just 18) and orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski in 1962 for a benefit concert. The orchestra leaned into the sonics of the piece, the burnished brass and basso lower strings engulfing the hall with tidal waves of sounds. The orchestra followed up that robusto showpiece with the serene symphonic atmospherics of composer Florence Price’sAdoration.

Nézet‑Séguin introduced Maria Duenas telling the audience that they would remember this as an “I was there the night” Duenas performed Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane. Dressed in a stunner pink gown, her whole body expressed the full musicality required for the composer’s 1924 piece that was inspired by Hungarian violin virtuoso Jelly d’Arányi spontaneous medley of gypsy tunes.

Duenas attacked the piece’s lengthy opening solo with such flair, articulating the rhythmic, staccato lines and mash‑up of folkloric musicality. The orchestra eventually enters in a counterpoint dialogue, so turns the symphonic heat up even more. This was a solid debut by a young soloist in a monster of a piece. Duenas showed even more range, following up with Fritz Keisler’s Caprice viennois.

After an intermission, Hélène Grimaud came onstage to lusty applause and launched into the second and third movements of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, a piece just as technically challenging as Tzigane. From the opening bars Grimaud’s radiant technical command and thrilling interpretive artistry was revelatory. It is no surprise that her performances with this orchestra are so memorable.

There were plenty of 90s era Moby fans in the audience, and the international alt‑rock star’s ragtag outfit brought lots of laughs. At one moment joking about this event being on a meth trip instead of a guest soloist in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Moby paid tribute to his childhood music teacher, a Philadelphia who was in the audience, who gave him a music assignment when he was nine to riff on Handel’s Sarabande, Moby has since orchestrated his variations as a nuevo-baroque sinfonia.

The set included his symphonic orchestrations of his hits Everloving and the vocal Porcelain, originally with synth sound‑worlds for Moby dramatic lyrics about a scorned lover, now given the full orchestral punch of the Philadelphia Strings. With Porcelain his baleful vocals and guitar, with Grimaud joining him on piano, was still soulfully feral Moby. The audience didn’t hold back their 90s alt‑rock love.

The finale piece was the final movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version) and played so powerfully that one felt cheated that they weren’t hearing the entire ballet score in fiery flight with Igor’s lustrous musical fantasia.

Lewis Whittington



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