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A musical night to remember

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
03/05/2024 -  & March 3 (Worcester), 6 (New York), 2024
Cris Derksen: Controlled Burn
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major , Op.43

Cris Derksen (Cello), Tony Siqi Yun (Piano)
Orchestre Métropolitain, Yannick Nézet‑Séguin (Conductor)

Y. Nézet‑Séguin, T. S. Yun (© François Goupil/OM)

Conductor Yannick Nézet‑Séguin with the Orchestre Métropolitain (OM) is on tour in his adopted hometown where he is Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director, telling a sold‑out Verizon Hall he was “excited bringing my wonderful Canadian family to my wonderful American family.” He led OM in what proved to be a sterling program of Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, and a premiere from Canadian composer Cris Derksen. It was a playlist which proved a musical night to remember for the audience and for the musicians onstage.

Nézet-Séguin introduced Cris Derken and described her piece Controlled Burn as the conjuring of a fire burning used to nourish the land practiced by the composer’s North Tallcree Nation ancestry and the piece also alludes to the massive Canadian wildfires of recent years, allusive to effects of climate change. Derksen performed on her silvery electric cello, throughout the piece there were acoustic – col legno battuto (the cellists cracking their bow over the strings in 16th notes) –illustrating the crackling of burning forests and some electronic with Derksen performing on a mini‑keyboard. Metallic whooshing sound evoking aerial sorties deployed to extinguish the flames, muffled screeching sounds of birds fleeing the trees. Meanwhile the orchestral thrust of this piece is equally captivating in its fusion of classicism and feral symphonic effects. A soundworld that is as mysterious and organically organized as nature itself. Derksen’s transcendent cello passage near the end of the piece is breathtaking.

Rachmaninoff had a storied history with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and his canon is always a marquee draw and his Piano Concerto No. 2 a perennial favorite, especially being performed by soloist Tony Siqi Yun, winner of the inaugural 2019’s China International Music Competition, and his performance on this night was electric right out of the gate. Yun dramatic opening bars of the concerto slowly that leads its Rachmaninoff most famous symphonic theme – which millions heard as the film soundtrack to the 40s British classic “Brief Encounter”.

This concerto is tricky to keep fresh because of its romanticism and familiarity with generations of listeners. To counter that, Nézet‑Séguin eliciting a depth of orchestral sound with each recapitulation sustained dramatic purpose. Yun was expressive, and even a little vampy in the first movement, landing those dense keyboard runs. Yun was more balanced with the full orchestra in the second and third movements. On balance, the interpretive artistry of Yun and this orchestra was exquisite. The audience was on its feet again with lusty applause, and coaxed back for three bows, Yun’s encored with Rachmaninov’s Prelude Op.23 No. 2. Yun has warmth, technical swagger and major divo hair.

The concert closer was Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 and Nézet‑Séguin noted its musicality had parallels to Canadian sensibilities and indeed, this orchestra unleashed all of Sibelius’ lustrous, journeying symphonics. At its premiere in 1902 in Helsinki, Finnish audiences embraced the work as a symbol of their freedom and a statement against Russian aggressive move to annex Finland. Sibelius later denied that there was any political intent in his composition.

After rounds of applause, Yannick bounded back onstage asking if anyone would like a ‘musical nightcap’ and finished the program conducting Edvard Grieg’s Letzter Frühling , and even though the concert was already running late, most of this audience was ready to drink in one for the road.

Lewis Whittington



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