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La Belle Hélène

New World Center
04/13/2012 -  
Giuseppe Verdi: La forza del destino: Overture (*)
Cindy McTee: Double Play
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, op. 15

Hélène Grimaud (piano)
New World Symphony, Joshua Gersen (*), Leonard Slatkin (conductors)

H. Grimaud (© Courtesy of NWS)

The reason for this performance is the great pianist Hélène Grimaud. She lives up to all the hype and expectation; in addition there are other benefits to the evening.

Grimaud has chosen something for which she is renowned, Piano Concerto No. 1 by Brahms. Forget that this is one of the most demanding of pieces for the pianist, it is also a challenge for the audience. No overt sentimentality, not really even any moments for sections of the orchestra to showoff, this one does not allow an audience to wallow in romance.

The fresh-faced Grimaud enters auditorium every inch the non-celebrity, yet looking particularly distinguished in a black and grey pantsuit. She immediately takes the stage.

During the long orchestral introduction Grimaud looked up several times at the audience with an almost frightening intensity. She was “in the zone” and our presence was not going to influence her mission; her duty was for the team and Mr. Brahms.

This concerto is unlike most others. We don’t get a showpiece to emphasize the soloist’s technical virtuosity; the virtuosity in this concerto is best recognized by the pianist’s ability to integrate, not stand out. It almost sounds like a powerful symphony with an especially large role for the piano. Slatkin’s greatest contribution is to maintain the seamlessness by not allowing the pianist to overshadow the orchestra.

The conclusion was met with an almost stunned and reverential ovation. To Grimaud’s great credit this performance was never a star turn. Though this concerto is very sensitive, it is undeniably masculine, even aggressively so at times. To hear and see it mastered by the seemingly petite Grimaud feels refreshingly incongruous. And in no small measure the audience’s ovation is to itself for remaining so intensely focused throughout.

The evening began with Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, one of the greatest pieces of music to get an audience pumped up. The orchestra seemed a bit tentative but before too long was exhibiting all the Italian passion which often has a Russian flavor. Conductor Joshua Gersen often offers the opening piece at the New World Center and continues to exhibit a confidence which indicates that he will be a major influence someday soon.

Leonard Slatkin entered afterwards with composer Cindy McTee and together they gave some background for the next piece, Ms. McTee’s Double Play. Their introduction ended with Mr. Slatkin telling us that Ms. McTee is his wife. To those not familiar with her work this might have smelled of nepotism. Their exchange was charming and informative but not necessary; McTee is a solid composer. Those who are not enchanted by modern music had to, at the very least, say “Well we can’t say it was boring.” No, it was not. The piece might almost be seen as a percussion concerto with so many unusual looking and sounding instruments. There were times when interesting sounds were emanating from the stage yet the instruments were not easily identifiable. And the jazz elements, for the strings, gives the piece an urban sound that is particularly intriguing. Hopefully more of McTee’s work will be offered to Miamians.

This is another performance that lives up to New World’s mission and continues to encourage its audience to stretch.

The Cindy McTee’s Website

Jeff Haller



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