Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Philadelphia Orchestra – Yannick Nezet-Sequin, conductor; Paul Jacobs, organ; Emanuel Ax, piano. October 6, 2017.

Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center.  Orchestra (Seat R11, $55.30).

Resilience, for organ and orchestra (2015) by Oquin (b. 1977).
Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595 (1788-1791) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (1877) by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).

[Note: A couple of paragraphs were added on October 8.]

I mentioned to David Y that one of the Big Five orchestras I hadn’t heard live was the Philadelphia Orchestra.  For the current season he subscribed to five concerts, with three conducted by Nezet-Sequin.  We decided to join them for tonight’s – turns out it was the first subscription concert of the season – and one in May.  While the most expensive seats in this venue cost over $100, our seats at $55 were quite good. Being on the left side of the hall, we had a good view of the soloists as they went about their business.

David Y also relayed reports that the musicians complained about acoustics on the stage, in that it was difficult for the double basses to hear the violins.  We certainly could hear the parts very well.  Certainly the violins, which were closest to us; but also the cellos and double basses, who were at the other end of the stage.

 Oquin on stage after performance of his work "Resilience."  Nezet-Sequin and Jacobs look on from behind.

 Inside Verizon Hall.  The longest pipes of the organ measure 32 feet.

Screen grab of LiveNote.  A line would move along the columns to let the audience know where the music is at.  There is also short concurrent description of the piece as it progressed in real time.

Resilience was first premiered on the West Coast, by the Pacific Symphony in 2016.  Playbill says the work sees its East Coast premiere in these concerts.  Left unanswered was the question if the work traveled here by land or by air.

For a few years now PO has introduced this App LIVENOTE which streams information onto cell phones in real time; yes, as in during the music performance.  LIVENOTE was on for Resilience.  Perhaps because of that, the music made a lot of sense to me.  The flip side was some of my attention was diverted to the screen, and I have forgotten completely what the music sounded like – and I am typing this less than 24 hours from the concert.  I do agree with the following sentiments from Playbill: (i) the music is celebratory; and (ii) both the organ and the orchestra are powerful instruments.  The problem with modern music is that each piece is performed so infrequently that the typical audience member will seldom have the opportunity to hear it multiple times, thus the understanding and appreciation can only remain on a superficial level.  I do remember the cadenza by the organist that consists only of pedal notes.  It is amazing that two shoed feet can be so agile and produce such crisp notes.  Oquin was in the audience and came on stage at the conclusion.

Ax was described by Nezet-Sequin as a “good friend” of the orchestra and himself.  On many occasions Gilbert has used similar terms with regard to the New York Philharmonic.  I suspect Ax is probably considered such by many orchestras and their conductors.  From my observations he seems to be very easy-going; of course I have no direct knowledge of that.

In the introduction Nezet-Sequin also described the sunny nature of the concerto, even though it was completed in the year Mozart died.  I always find these remarks “interesting” in that in all likelihood Mozart had no inkling that he would die later that year, so he wasn’t going to be writing about his impending death.

In any case, this was certainly an “excellent” performance, in the sense that I enjoyed it fully.  The markings of the movements were simple enough: Allegro, Larghetto, and Allegro.  The last movement is a rondo.

Ax and Nezet-Sequin after performance of the Mozart concerto.

We heard Tchaikovsky’s Fourth last year performed by the NJSO, with Zhang Xian conducting.  I don’t recall that as a particular awesome experience, and in re-reading my blog just now, characterizing it as “a competent orchestra playing some well-known passages by following the dynamics markings faithfully”.  Tonight’s performance was certainly memorable, my remark to Anne was both Yannick and Xian go through a lot of motion, but Yannick seems to elicit a better response from PO.  Anne’s counter was the way she remembered it the NJSO did much better with the pizzicato movement, and I agree with her.  I wonder if that was the orchestra or the alleged bad acoustics of the auditorium.  I was also quite sure either the flute or the piccolo jumped the gun a bit and came in a measure early.

The audience started to applaud at the conclusion of the first movement.  If any movement is worthy of such a gesture, this would be one of them.  Nezet-Sequin stopped it cold with a swing of his baton.  Others should emulate this gesture.

A search of my blog returned three results for Nezet-Sequin, conducting operas at the Met (of course he will assume the post of music director in a few years.)  We also attended a pre-concert talk by PO’s assistant conductor Kensho Watanabe.  His interview with Oquin was mostly about the sound Nezet-Sequin wanted for a particular passage; he also had the cellist Richard Harlow demonstrate this newly discovered phrasing of the slow Tchaikovsky movement that only a Ph D musicologist would love.  I couldn’t tell the difference.  Anne on the other hand, found the talk very informative.

Anne also thought we had heard this orchestra before, decades ago, when they were still in their old home (they moved to the current location in 2001.)  I vaguely remembered they would start a concert with the National Anthem, which they did again today.  Philadelphia and Boston must be constant vying to lay claim to where America started.

We left our house a bit before 3 pm to allow enough time to visit areas around Temple University and Girard College – the latter is a 168-year-old prep school for the economically disadvantaged.  Dinner was at Max Brenner’s, with Vivien and David.  Parking in Philadelphia is relatively inexpensive at $11, prepaid.  Turns out there was more traffic when we left the concert after 10 pm.  There were many bars and clubs in this ritzy area of town, and quite a few people appeared drunk already.

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