Carnegie Hall, the country’s leading concert venue, which was closed for 572 days due to the pandemic, opened its season on Wednesday. He only received a simple greeting from the stage – “welcome back” Clive Gillinson, the executive and artistic director of the hall – so that the audience is constantly bursting with cheers.
on paper, Program of the Philadelphia Orchestra — including favorites like Bernstein’s cheery “Candide” overture and staples like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — seemed to tend to the traditional purpose of an opening night as a crowd-pleasing fundraiser. Still, questions about both the choice of work and the production of live music, the relevance and renewal of classical music, went deeper than I expected.
Yannick Nezet-SeguinThe orchestra’s musical director began by directing a performance of Valerie Coleman’s “Seven O’Clock Shout,” which The Philadelphians premiered online in May. This five-minute score became the orchestra’s unofficial anthem for this difficult period. Inspired by Boccaccio and the 7pm cheer for those on the front lines during the pandemic, the piece offers a hard-won vision for a better place.
It opens with cautious trumpet fanfares that set the trembling strings in motion. The music passes through turbulent riffs, polished string chords, sad silence and violent restlessness – complemented by genuine shouts and applause from the players. The piece has a Copland-esque glow at times, but Coleman adds harsh harmonic tweaks and assertive syncopations that constantly surprise.
Shiny pianist Yuja Wang He was the soloist of Shostakovich’s 1957 Piano Concerto No. 2, which is considered one of the lighter and humorous notes of this composer. But from the very beginning, this performance—especially Wang’s commanding, colorful play—seemed determined to look below the moving surface for clues to the sharply satirical Shostakovich.
As the orchestra played the lively chirping opening theme with wind instruments, Wang almost sneaked into the melee with a masterful lyrical interpretation of the piano’s quirky lines. Then, taking charge, he sent out fragile chords, ran eerily and continued to reveal elements of steel that are both sweetly melodic and hardworking in the three-part piece.
later Nézet-SeguinHe is currently in his other role as music director of the Metropolitan Opera. “Turn The Fire In My Bones” by Terence Blanchard “Candide” turned to the overture—and it may have gone to great lengths to bring out the jagged edges and multi-layered complexities in Bernstein’s sparkling, demonic music.
He then talked to the audience about how the disruptions caused by the pandemic have shaken our collective understanding of “where are we, where are we going” and explained the pairing of the last two works in the show: Iman Habibi’s short “Jeder Baum spricht”. (“Every Tree Speaks”) and Beethoven’s Fifth. Written in dialogue with the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the Habibi note premiered in Philadelphia on March 12, 2020. to an empty hall, just after the pandemic closures began.
Habibi imagines how Beethoven, a nature lover, might respond to today’s climate crisis. On Wednesday, the compelling piece sounded like a series of frustrated attempts at harmony and peace, with erratic beginnings, hazy chords, and flowing but erratic rhythmic figures. Finally, there is a sense of affirmation and rice-like richness, no matter how restless.
Without hesitation, Nézet-Séguin plunged into Beethoven. And if you think this classic work should sound heroic and monumental, this performance is not for you. There was a hasty, momentary calculation here. The tempos were constantly changing. Some passages were panting, only to move on to those in which Nézet-Séguin uttered lyrical inner voices that you rarely hear so distinctly. It was exciting and unpredictable. Beethoven felt that he was responding to Habibi, and vice versa.
The Philadelphians had planned to present a full review of the symphonies at Carnegie last season as part of Beethoven’s 250th birthday celebrations. This cycle will occur in five programs over the coming months, with new shorter pieces preceded by many of these totemic studies. (The orchestra, which has been to Carnegie at least seven times, plays more Coleman in February alongside Barber and Florence Price in February, and Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” in April.)
If opening night pairings and performances were any indication, this series would be a stimulating conversation between classical music’s storied past and its turbulent present.