Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra by Curtis Rittenhouse

By on January 22, 2012
A reposting of a piece written last month. Curt will be attending an event with Yannick Nezet-Seguin this week. TG
Posted on December 11, 2011 by 

Friday afternoon the Music Director-designate of the venerable Philadelphia Orchestra was on the podium at Verizon Hall for inquiring ears to assess.

It was the second program in the past two months that seemed to look back at the Orchestra’s heritage, featuring pieces associated with the orchestra’s 111 year history. Jennifer Higdon’s 2002 Concerto for Orchestra started the concert. It was a piece commissioned for the orchestra’s centennial, which premiered at the opening concert of Verizon Hall under the direction of then-music director Wolfgang Sawallisch. It is a flashy, technically-accomplished piece that shows off the orchestra players and sections, especially the percussion. Nezet-Seguin, who has an energetic but well-reasoned podium style, gave it his all which seemed to please  the audience and the composer who was on hand to share in the applause.

What it did not have, showed up in the next piece, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a popular piece premiered by the orchestra in 1938 with the composer at the piano. Truth to tell the pianist-composer does not quite have the sophisticated grasp of orchestration that Higdon has, but when the famous 18th variation shows up, it matters not at all. Even if you are hearing this piece for the first time, you know instinctively that the composer is on to something very special when it arrives. It is a theme that lingers in the listener’s mind long after the music is over. And this was the case Friday afternoon.  Yuja Wang, the soloist, has the measure of this challenge in her fingers and she and the conductor had no fear of the brooding emotion inherent in the piece as well.

The best however did come last. Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony, the Little Russian, a relatively neglected symphony even in Tchaikovsky-loving Philadelphia, got as good an interpretation as I have ever heard, live or recorded. The playing was spirited and virtuosic. The music swept on to a thrilling conclusion. The players seemed delighted to be making music this afternoon and that makes a difference.

I could not help but recall several concerts I attended three or four years ago where this same group of musicians look bored or oppressed, playing dutifully and sometimes listlessly under a number of conductors, especially their music director. The enthusiasm on the platform Friday was palpable. I felt that the Orchestra under Dutoit, and now its director-designate is returning to its former glories.

But wait, there was an encore, the Troika from the Nutcracker, almost unheard of at subscription concerts these days, and then Nezet-Seguin came out and talked for several minutes with the composer and the orchestra’s principal administrator. What a nice bonus. Something new and exciting is happening on Broad Street. Classical music may be staging a comeback.

I had heard these forces a month earlier under Nezet-Seguin in an add-on concert playing Verdi’s La Forza del Destino Overture, Mendelssohn Italian Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini and Respighi’s The Pines of Rome, all pieces that hark back to his predecessors Stokowski, Ormandy, Muti and Sawallisch. Then as now I was impressed at the young French-Canadian maestro’s ability to make the music exciting, even thrilling while finding all sorts of things in the scores beyond the notes. Having heard Stokowski, Ormandy, Muti, Sawallisch and Eschenbach live in the concert hall, I know that already the new director need not worry about comparisons.

Like his mentor Giulini who I saw many times in Los Angeles, he seems absolutely dedicated to music-making.  And like Gustavo Dudamel another Angeleno, he seems to be having the time of his life on the podium and this fervor infects the musicians and the audience and probably anyone else in the building.

Lucky, lucky Philadelphia. If there is a cure for what is ailing the orchestra financially, surely it must be this 36-year old music director-elect who may well put the Fabulous  Philadelphians back on top again.


Curtis Rittenhouse

About Tom Godfrey

One comment on “Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra by Curtis Rittenhouse

  1. TGodfrey on said:

    Thanks. TG

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