A sweet streamer

The Philadelphia Orchestra presents Florence Price’s Symphony No. 4

In
3 minute read
Nézet-Séguin sits at a grand piano, pausing play to conduct orchestra members, grouped around him, with his hands
Conductor and soloist: Yannick Nézet-Séguin performs Mozart with the Philadelphia Orchestra. (Photo by Jeff Fusco.)

Concert-lovers may be returning to their beloved venues such as the Kimmel Center this fall, but there is still much in which to engage and delight in the world of digital and broadcast music. In fact, its Digital Stage has been so popular during the pandemic that the Philadelphia Orchestra is running two separate, concurrent seasons for 2021-22: one featuring live music in Verizon Hall, the other streaming online. Its latest streaming offering features Mozart and Florence Price, and the experience could not have been sweeter.

Nézet-Séguin’s solo

Yannick Nézet-Séguin not only led the orchestra in Mozart’s enchanting Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, but also starred as soloist—what a treat to hear him in this charming little concerto from the 18th century. Impressed as fans like me are by his skill as a conductor and his ability to make symphonic music more accessible to diverse audiences, we tend to forget that he is also an accomplished pianist.

Segueing between conducting the orchestra and performing as pianist, Nézet-Séguin brought out the delicacy of each of the three movements with a touch that was precise but warm. This concerto has many special moments when the soloist interacts with individual musicians in the orchestra. There were several times in the second movement when the piano conversed with two oboes in a subdued and delicate manner. Considering that as a conductor Nézet-Séguin is known for a bold and lively style, this was an unexpected treat. Mozart’s musical ideas emerged with crystal clarity as Nézet-Séguin concluded the concerto with a gentle touch.

In the treasure trove

The Mozart was followed by Florence Price’s Fourth Symphony in D minor, an until-now almost forgotten masterpiece whose rediscovery is opening doors for other American composers who are women and people of color. The Philadelphia Orchestra has been a leader in showcasing the genius of Price (1887-1953), a Black American composer, recently recording her symphonies.

Price came to national prominence in 1933 when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her first symphony. It was the first time a US orchestra had played a major symphonic work by a Black woman. The Symphony No. 4 was composed in 1945, but not performed during her lifetime. It was discovered among a treasure trove of other compositions following her death. Since that time, her work continues to be discovered and performed around the world.

According to the concert program, the score for this performance includes a wide array of instruments, reflecting Price’s impressive knowledge of the symphonic composer’s tools. The score calls for a varied core of strings, brass, and woodwinds as well as an array of percussion instruments including several types of drums, cymbals, gong, bells, triangle, and tambourine.

The digital advantage

The four-movement work is engaging and well-balanced throughout, with sophisticated orchestration and exciting harmonic invention. There’s good humor in the third movement (“Juba,” which refers to a spirited dance created and performed by people enslaved on plantations). There are ample opportunities for the orchestra’s principal musicians to shine, and themes from a number of Black spirituals (like “Wade in the Water”) are woven into the texture of each section. The second movement includes a melody similar to, but to my ear, much more attractive than the famous “Going Home” theme in Dvořák’s New World Symphony. The symphony ends in a cloudburst of triplets conducted by Nézet-Séguin in his most exuberant style.

One of the advantages of the Digital Stage productions is the chance to hear the conductor and individual performers reflect on the compositions and their performances. In this production, Nézet-Séguin called the Fourth the most personal of Price’s symphonies. “She had no reservation about her own ideas,” he said. “It’s great, I can’t wait to perform it again!”

What, When, Where

Yannick Conducts Mozart and Price. Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 12; Florence Price, Symphony in D minor. Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, also on the piano. The Philadelphia Orchestra. Filmed at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. $20. Available to stream through October 20, 2021. (215) 893-1999 or philorch.org

Accessibility

This concert was performed exclusively for a streaming audience.

For in-person performances, the Kimmel Center is an ADA-compliant venue. Patrons can purchase wheelchair seating or loose chairs online, by calling Patron Services at (215) 893-1999, or by emailing [email protected]. With advance notice, Patron Services can provide options for personal care attendants, American Sign Language, Braille tickets and programs, audio descriptions, and other services.

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