St. Petersburg Festival
01/15/2015 - & January 16*, 17, 2015
Alexander Glazunov: The Seasons, op. 67: ‘Winter’
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Selections from The Nutcracker, op. 71 – Symphony no. 5 in E minor, op. 64
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)
(© Pete Cecchia)
The Philadelphia Orchestra musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin has programmed January’s St. Petersburg Festival with what might have seemed a standard Russian repertory. Actually, this is anything but a perfunctory play-list, more a rediscovery, even exploration into the authentic compositional detailing of oft-softened classics. Interesting that this intense concert had a shaky opening with ‘Winter’ from Glazunov’s The Seasons seemed rushed and slushy.
Yannick was about to cue first selected scene from Act I of the The Nutcracker, when house noise from late arriving audience members prompted him to sit on the podium and mugging to the audience. This went on for a minute and then invited the couple to sit in the front row, which they did. Other conductors may have gotten diva, letting it affect their performance, but not Yannick, he savors such audience participation moments, meanwhile, his charm commands everyone’s attention.
He charged into the Nutcracker, making the potent point of how different a ballet score is rendered as a stand-alone orchestral work. For starters, the tempos are vastly different when the conductor doesn’t have to be contend with the in the moment choreographic pacing of the dancers onstage. Without that imagery, it is fascinating to hear how much Tchaikovsky goes for much darker dimensions that is reflected in the ballet and Nézet-Séguin ignites its disquieted musical chambers.
Tchaikovsky’s midnight chimes sounding most ominous and the orchestra spiking the score’s sonic power aggressively throughout. The Nutcracker may have the land of the dance sweets, but it first concerns the dark fears of a young girl. Staged now as a children’s ballet, Clara’s dream of her Nutcracker battling rats and, even in Balanchine’s version verges on campy choreography. The folkloric and Russian musicality is so forcefully rendered in fact conjured no scenes dancing in this head (and I’ve seen and reviewed the ballet dozens of times over the years) except during the snowflake swirls, when Balanchine’s swirling corps de ballet women flashed to mind.
From the sonority of the lower strings to crystallized harp resolves by Elizabeth Hainen to Jeffrey Khaner piercing flute flight that slices through the orchestral streams like a saber. Nézet-Séguin locks in on a key Russian musicality and Tchaikovsky’s orchestral symphonics often missing.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no 5 definitely has concert hall warhorse status, but with this performance, Nézet-Séguin unleashed both the grandeur of its metaphysics and its intimate, volcanic power. The famous theme contemplating fate, but it is not a stretch to see it as an orchestral memoir. The recapitulations changing from dirgey orchestral contemplation to a luminous, defiant resolve at the end. Yannick poured himself into the precision and the theatrical grandeur of the symphony – raising his head and arms at the fortissimo, communicating much through his eyes and expressions.
The audience just erupted at the conclusion, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more primal response to a classical piece than this. Called back for three full-throated ovations, Nézet-Séguin quickly moved to the back of the orchestra and escorted hornist Jennifer Montone to take a bow for her soulful and flawless musicianship on the second movement solo, one of the most profound passages in the composer’s canon. The maestro then acknowledged several players in what can be referred to as Tchaikovskian winds in their authority and the whole brass section punching through another dimension. The festival commences with three weekends of different programming of Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and the US premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage’s Piano Concerto.