Music director Dirk Brossé ends his tenure among friends

The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia presents Dinnerstein Plays Mozart

3 minute read
Close-up on Dinnerstein, a white woman in her early 50s with flowing brown hair, playing the piano among an orchestra.
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein is a longtime friend of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. (Photo by Tanya Braganti.)

The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia concluded its season at the Perelman Theater by welcoming back an old friend, the acclaimed pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The concerts on the weekend of May 17, 2024, also marked the end of Dirk Brossé’s 13-year tenure as the outfit’s music director. The mood alternated between celebratory fun and ruminative closure, and the overall performance proved that Brossé is leaving this band in solid shape.

The evening began with George Walker’s brief, contemplative Lyric for Strings. Philadelphians often claim a sense of ownership over Walker’s work—he was the first Black musician to graduate from the Curtis Institute, as well as the first Black composer to win a Pulitzer Prize. Major orchestras have come to discover the many pleasures of Walker’s vast oeuvre, but smaller pieces like this six-minute movement work best in intimate settings where a conductor can foster a sense of suspended shimmer without pushing for volume. Aside from a few haphazard entrances, Brossé led a performance notable for its graceful elegance and transparent string tone.

Beethoven’s bridge

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major often gets credited as the bisecting moment of the genre, separating the “before” of the Classical 18th century from the Romantic developments of the 19th. Hearing Brossé shepherd the piece with great vigor in a modestly sized concert hall created a sense of immediate pleasure: the timpani made the hair on my neck stand up without overstatement, while the woodwinds danced above the strings in a manner both light and meaty.

At a time when most larger orchestras have adopted the language of historically informed performance in these bridging works, it was intriguing to discover the Chamber Orchestra’s preference for old-fashioned ideas in the piece. Generous vibrato in the string tone conveyed a sense of enveloping warmth, as did Brossé’s favored liberal rubato, even in the usually fleeting Menuetto. Still, there was never a sense of the music dragging, and I remained thoroughly engaged from first to last.

The First often gets shunted aside to make room for other works in Beethoven’s canon: the revolutionary Fifth, the amiable Seventh, the monumental Ninth. The Chamber Orchestra’s performance suggested it should be given equal consideration on programs celebrating the great composer’s work.

Lush, lyrical, and well-fitted

After intermission, Dinnerstein appeared for Mozart’s A-Major Piano Concerto, the K488. Her particular style, unabashedly lush and lyrical, suited the character of this work to an ideal degree. In the first and third movements, she balanced racing speed with big, juicy chords, maintaining perfect equilibrium with Brossé’s stylish leadership of the orchestra. The central Adagio truly gives the soloist a moment to shine, and Dinnerstein took it for all it was worth, making a concerto that sometimes seems lachrymose into one that was tasteful and deeply felt.

As an encore, Dinnerstein and the string players offered a new arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air on the G String. Brossé took a lighter hand with the orchestra, while Dinnerstein offered a richly textured melody. This work is often played as a tribute, so it was a fitting end to Brossé’s time in Philadelphia. I hope he will join Dinnerstein as a trusted friend of the Chamber Orchestra who returns often.

What, When, Where

Dinnerstein Plays Mozart. George Walker, Beethoven, and Mozart. Conducted by Dirk Brossé. Simone Dinnerstein, piano. Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. May 17 and 19, 2024, at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, 300 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 545-5451 or


Ensemble Arts Philly venues are wheelchair accessible.

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