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Stéphane Denève NYE Dances around the globe

Verizon Hall
12/31/2017 -  
Tōru Takemitsu: Waltz from ‘The Face of Another’
Li Haunzhi: Spring Festival Overture
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: ‘Polonaise’ from Eugene Onegin
Amilcare Ponchielli: ‘Dance of the Hours’ from La Gioconda
Fritz Kreisler: Liebesleid
Johann Strauss, Jr.: ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ from Die Fledermaus – On the Beautiful Blue Danube
Jacques Offenbach: Excerpt from Gaîté Parisienne (adapt. & arr. Rosenthal)
Manuel de Falla: ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ from El amor brujo
Frederick Loewe: ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ from My Fair Lady
Astor Piazzolla: Libertango
Arturo Márquez: Danzón no. 2
Leonard Bernstein: ‘Mambo’ from West Side Story
Georges Bizet: ‘Farandole’ from L’Arlésienne Suite no. 2

Alexandra Nowakowski (soprano), Juliette Kang (violin), Cirque de la Symphonie: Alina Sergeeva & Vladimir Tsarkov (comics)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Stéphane Denève (conductor)

S. Denève (© Jessica Griffin)

New Year’s Eve concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra always include both expected and unexpected musical delights. Some years conducted musical director Yannick Nézet-Seguin and some years the baton passed to guest maestros like the wry and witty Bramwell Tovey, this year it was the orchestra’s principal guest conductor Stéphane Denève.

Who is musical director of the Brussels Philharmonic, Conductor designate for the St. Louis Symphony and director for the Centre for Future Orchestra Repertoire, and maestro Denève has both classical and global classical vibrancy. All evening Denève danced the audience around the world as the clock was counting down to 2018 via Japan, China, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Britain, Argentina, Mexico, US, Vienna and his home country France.

This program may have been packed with short showpieces, but it also showcased the orchestral range of the players and the masterful stamp of Denève. His conducting style is so in the musical moment; it is hard to take your eyes off of him. “You may have noticed my accent” Denève has a warm humor that is infectious, he coaxed out the most robust rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ from a Philly audience in years covering the orchestra’s NYE concerts. Denève commented that the being in the direct impact of this the orchestra was great for his dodgy auburn wavy hair that springs out, seemingly, on symphonic cues.

The Philadelphians make these traditional concerts a sense of musical occasion past the expected fare.

Among the evening’s many highlights.
Associate concertmaster-violinist Juliette Kang’s performance of Kreisler’s Liebesleid: Kang’s interpretive artistry superb and of course, Kreisler’s music profound.
Prolific Japanese film composer Takemitsu ‘Waltz’ composed for the film The Face of Another (first Philadelphia Orchestra performance) a cinematic romanza in the best sense.
Then the revelatory Spring Festival Overture by Chinese composer Li Huanzhi, exemplar of sensual symphonics and imbued with Chinese classicism.
The deep sonority of the lower strings and striations in all of the strings for Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango (first Philadelphia Orchestra performance) should be frequently revisited. It is Piazzolla at his most sultry and the cellos ignite its blue fire.
Alexandra Nowakowski (in a stunning midnight brocade lace opera gown) sang ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ from Strauss Die Fledermaus and it may have an opera comique surface, but it is technically demanding. A little struggle with not being overpowered by the orchestra in this hall, singing without a microphone, but a few bars in balance was achieved and Nowakowski commanded with her warm upper range. Denève gamely careening on the podium to belt out a couple of Marquis’ lines to hilarious effect.
For Nowakowski’s second selection, Denève deadpanned “We now are going to leave Europe and go to Britain” which got the biggest laugh of the night from this sharp audience, a reference to the Brexit drama. Then Nowakowski belted out (without over-operatizing) Ernest Loewe’s ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’from My Fair Lady.
From Italy, Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours (used in Fantasia as the score for the dancing elephants, Denève reminded us), that delicate orchestra brought on the Cirque de la Symphonie comics Alina Sergeeva and Vladimir Tsarev from who literally roped in violinist Richard Amoroso, who admirably mugged his way through some slippery vaudeville.
From De Falla the Ritual Fire Dance the bombastic orchestral fireworks engulfing Verizon Hall and a perfect prelude to Mexican composer Márquez Danzón no. 2 a symphonic classic laced with panoramic cultural musicality that transports.
The same quality was brought to Bernstein’s Mambo with Denève pivoting on the podium to cue the audience to sing out that title at the right moment which we did rather lustily.
The concert was framed with standard waltz rep - Tchaikovsky’s ‘Polonaise’ from Eugene Onegin, Offenbach’s Gaîté Parisienne that bubbles over into the world’s most famous Can-Can and of course the finale of Strauss’ Blue Danube is the classic hit tune to bid farewell to another year.

Denève concluded the evening with a few heartfelt words about the universal language of music, his lead in to his encore, Bizet’s L’Arlésienne Suite, and its ability to bring people, cultures and even nations together at least for the time that everyone listens. Would that it would be, but at least on this icy December night with the Philadelphians it was easier to imagine.

Lewis Whittington



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