Philadelphia Orchestra’s Scandinavian concert

The mark of a world-class orchestra

A world-class orchestra usually proves its mettle on stage. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s “Night in Scandinavia” concerts last weekend were no exception.

Stéphane Denève, temporary head of the world-class class. (Photo by Jessica Griffin)

Expecting the unexpected

Under the baton of principal guest conductor Stéphane Denève, Sibelius's Second Symphony proved a superb vehicle to demonstrate the unifying sound of its strings, as if its violins and cellos were but a single instrument. Esa-Pekka Salonen’s surprisingly powerful "Nyx" provided an excellent showcase for the piccolos and clarinets. In Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, German soloist Lars Vogt got into the music not only with his fingers but also with his feet and body, displaying rapt attention to the musicians when he wasn’t playing -- almost as if he was hearing this very familiar piece for the first time. In all, this was the sort of emotionally warm evening you don’t expect from the frozen north.

But another test of professionals is how they handle the unexpected. During the Sibelius on Saturday night, principal cellist Hai-Ye Ni apparently lost a string on her cello. Without a word and only a few gestures, her seatmate, associate principal cellist Priscilla Lee, switched cellos with her, then silently left the stage, impaired cello in tow. She returned minutes later with a restrung instrument, and the two finished the symphony with each other’s cellos and no audible harm done.

It’s also worth noting the orchestra’s behind-the-scenes professionalism. Four years ago I wrote about an incident in which someone in the second or third row suffered a seizure just a few feet from the pianist, Rudolf Buchbinder. With the collaboration of a violinist, several ushers somehow managed to escort the victim from the auditorium with minimal disturbance to musicians and audience.

Rolling with the changes

Something less cataclysmic but equally impressive happened to me Saturday night. Due to an apparent computer glitch, instead of receiving my customary two seats in Row P of the orchestra level, I was given tickets for two seats in the mezzanine already occupied by another couple whose tickets bore the exact same seat numbers. My wife and I returned to the box office to retrieve the correct tickets, but by this time the concert had already started.

We assumed we’d have to wait outside the auditorium doors until the opening Salonen piece was finished. But an usher inquired about our situation, and when we told him what happened, he replied, as if he had handled this problem many times, “Follow me. If you’re absolutely quiet, I will take you in the hall and you can sit in the rear until the first piece is over. Then I’ll escort you to your seats in case someone else is sitting there.”

That’s what happened — except we found the seats in the rear so comfortable and the sightlines so good we stayed there through the rest of the concert. And we were grateful we heard most of the Salonen, which turned out to be longer than we expected.

I hasten to add that the usher, a Kimmel veteran named Milton Norcross, never knew I was a critic until the concert was over. As far as he was concerned, I was a paying patron who deserved first-class treatment from a first-class orchestra. For a professional, it was just another day at the office, onstage or off.   

To read Linda Holt's review, click here.

Our readers respond

Margaret Darby

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on April 26, 2017

Boy, you get all the excitement! Substitute conductors, oversold seats. Your reviews make me jealous. When are you planning to attend next?

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