The pinch-hitter also rises

Noseda conducts Orchestra’s DvoÅ™ák

3 minute read
More than any other single factor, it was the music that the Philadelphia Orchestra had originally scheduled for Saturday, January 15 that persuaded me to re-subscribe this season, thus ending my several years of grumpy boycott. The program called for a work by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt as well as J. S. Bach's Concerto for Two Violins and Bruckner's Seventh Symphony. The conductor was to have been Donald Runnicles, whose work I had enjoyed and praised in BSR in 2007. I'd been looking forward to this concert for months.

It has been the Orchestra's practice in the past to send e-mails reminding subscribers of coming concerts, but this time I received no such communication. I didn't think much of it until January 14, when, by luck, I heard a spot on WRTI announcing what turned out to be the actual program. All that remained of the original repertory was the Bach; Pärt and Bruckner had been replaced by a Respighi suite for strings and DvoÅ™ák's Eighth Symphony.

Bad karma

There was a simple explanation: Runnicles had withdrawn because of "acute back pain" and had been replaced at the last minute by the Metropolitan Opera's conductor, Gianandrea Noseda. All right, these things do happen, but it would have been considerate of the Orchestra folks to notify subscribers in advance or at least to mention what had happened on their radio spot, instead of making me track down the information on the Orchestra's website.

I imagined an evening of rather perfunctory standard repertory under the direction of a pinch-hitting conductor. I certainly didn't anticipate anything worth writing home "“ or to BSR readers "“ about. Of course, as you've no doubt figured out, I was, as I so happily often am, dead wrong.

One disappointment

Noseda conducted everything with conviction and clarity and, as far as I could tell, had managed, in just a few rehearsals, to gain the musicians' rapt attention and commitment. The Respighi suite, for strings alone, is a really a lightweight work, but under Noseda's expressive direction, the Orchestra's strings glowed and whispered. And Noseda used fast tempos to transform the DvoÅ™ák Eighth from its usual lyrical, bucolic self into a world of incisive attacks and dramatic contrasts— an interpretation of this marvelously compact and complicated work unlike any I'd heard previously.

Ironically, the only actual disappointment was the only surviving work from the original program: the Bach concerto. The performance of this sublime work, featuring the Orchestra's first chair violinists David Kim and Juliette Kang, was impeccable and, honesty demands that I report, received a standing ovation. But this is really an intense and intimate chamber work; it simply isn't suited to a space like Verizon Hall. Listening to it there was the aural equivalent of looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

Noseda had given the Orchestra audience an encore two days earlier— the Sibelius Valse Triste. But Saturday night— perhaps because he had, amazingly, already conducted a performance of La Traviata that afternoon at the Met— despite numerous curtain calls, no more music was forthcoming after the DvoÅ™ák. No matter. I had certainly gotten my money's worth, and much more than I had hoped for.

What, When, Where

Philadelphia Orchestra: Bach, Concerto for Two Violins; Respighi, Suite For Strings; DvoÅ™ák, Eighth Symphony. David Kim and Juliette Kang, violins; Gianandrea Noseda, conductor. January 13-15, 2011 at Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Broad and Spruce Sts. (215) 893-1999 or

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