Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
I had the pleasure of attending the Bell, Bernstein, and Brahms concert at the Kimmel Center last night so here are a few quick observations. First, I'm a little disappointed that they didn't name the concert "Frank, Bernstein, and Brahms" to include the 3rd composer in the program. Sure, they were going for the catchy name, and Joshua Bell is a world renowned violinist, but Gabriela Lena Frank's world premier of her work commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra to celebrate Yannick Nézet-Séguin's inaugural season was a significant highlight of the evening. Frank quickly dismissed formalities in both the pre-concert and post-concert presentations with her bubbly enthusiasm and warm personality. Her quick wit and frequent comments about food made me wish i could invite her over for dinner. So how was her music? All that warmth and personality shined through in her "Concertino Cusqueno". The contemporary techniques melded with musical styles from South America and Great Brittian that were mixed into a warm stock of classical composition to form a kind of comfort stew that should sooth the soul of anyone "afraid" of new music. I especially enjoyed an echo like effect used early in the piece where a few remaining musicians continued to sustain notes after the main section stopped. Marimbas played with bows also contributed a warm sound that filled out the strings.
Bernstein's "Serenade for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion" followed Frank to demonstrate another axis of influence. More traditionally classical then Bernstein's popular theater works, jazz, nevertheless, found its way into the piece. Especially towards the end when a couple of pure jazz bass lines plucked out by principal bassist, Harold Robinson, lead the progression towards an exuberant ending that left no doubt to the listener on the source of the composition.
The audience in the virtually sold out concert was remarkably silent, short of a few unfortunate coughs, throughout the evening. Not a single clap between movements. I don't have box office numbers to confirm this, but my guess is that unlike the sold out concerts last season, this audience was primarily made up of season ticket holders and advanced single ticket purchases. The orchestra offered deep discounts last season to fill seats. That strategy along with the excitement of Nézet-Séguin's inaugural season appeared to be working. The orchestra must be able to fill concert halls with full retail priced ticket sales to survive and if this is truly a trend, it is encouraging indeed.
The final work of the night connected Brahms with Bach when the full orchestra returned to play "Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98". Conductor circle seats were the place to be. Nézet-Séguin took the podium without a score and proceeded to direct the orchestra in large sweeps. He appeared to recognize that had been handed the keys to a shiny new Rolls Royce that it would practically drive itself. Of course his preparation work with the orchestra was essential, and it did leave a subtle imprint of the conductor on the performance, but at this stage, broad strokes were all that were needed. His highly emotional direction drew the results he desired not through micro-management but though suggestion and encouragement. The result was an awe inspiring performance with that magnificent and world renowned warmth in the strings and stellar performances from all. If this is an indication of the season ahead of us, it's probably best to make sure you hold tickets for the concerts you wish to see, now.
Disclaimer: This article is an observation from the viewpoint of a "regular member" of the audience, not a critical review.