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From André, with Philly love

Verizon Hall
09/14/2018 -  & September 15*, 16, 2018
Nico Muhly: Liar, A Suite from Marnie
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto, Op. 16
Serge Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45

André Watts (piano)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

A. Watts (© David Bazemore)

The Philadelphia Orchestra kicked off their Philly season with a gala champagne reception and bubbly concert September 13 and with a separate regular season opener last weekend that included a commissioned preview of a new opera, an historic repertory gem and an altogether triumphal return of pianist André Watts.

The occasion also kicking off conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s formidable concurrent duties at the Metropolitan Opera. Looking maestro buff Yannick strode onstage in a tight white conductor’s tunic, glasses and a new hair style this side of Yul Brynner, he even had some more fluid choreography in play as he conducted without a baton.

Then it was all about the music. Liar, A Suite from Marnie commissioned by Philadelphia Orchestra is the single movement orchestral to Nico Muhly’s new opera Marnie, which opens at the Metropolitan Opera this fall. Muhly is one of the most in demand opera composers around and was in Verizon Hall for the premiere. The Suite proved a compelling, standalone piece – both from Muhly’s full opera – and even more crucially, from any comparisons to Bernard Herrmann’s score to the Alfred Hitchcock film. Hitchcock movie is a taut psychosexual thriller and almost campy romantic vehicle for stars Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. Marnie acts out by changing her identity, having many affairs, moving from town to town, insinuating herself as a trusted employee in various companies, then robbing them. Of course it’s all about her psychosexual miasma (a Hitchcock signature) that is based on a repressed violent incident from her childhood.

Muhly’s Suite, actually, is cinematic in the best sense, with dramatic sonic effects, for instance, that Muhly doesn’t lean on to carry the piece. The flow of crystallized orchestral sub-streams that emerge and solo lines that are themselves gripping character narratives. In the movie, Marnie’s sexual psychosis was, of course, handled more pruriently, under the heavy handed plot points. Muhly describes the Suite as being less about Marnie’s grifting, than it is about her inner turmoil dealing with reality and unreality, he notes that “her memory comes back to her out of order, in abstract ways.” The Philadelphians vividly essayed Muhly’s driving single movement structure. Liar proved more than a curiosity, but a strong preview of the full orchestral and vocal score.

André Watts was the soloist on the first program that Yannick conducted with the Philadelphians, an auspicious beginning since Watts history with the Philadelphia Orchestra goes all the way back to 1957, when the young prodigy made his debut with the orchestra at age 10 and has since performed with the orchestra over 100 times since.

One of the most recognized opening notes of any classical work, Grieg’sPiano Concerto never loses its entrancing musical power. Watts’ seemed a bit rote in that opening Allegro passage and even a bit detached from the orchestra, but by the cadenza, he quickly dropped right in the virtuosic pocket and his technical interpretive artistry continued to bloom for the rest of the piece. The second movement thrust of the symphonic surge, he was in such ensemble sync with this orchestra. It was a performance full of André’s magic with the Philadelphians. The folkloric pianism in the last movement, Watts brought every contour and color to the lyrical rhythmic line. This was a triumphant performance, once again, from André Watts, a favorite son of Philadelphia audiences in this or any other season.

The concert closer was Nézet-Séguin’s first entry of a season long Stokowski Festival was a work that this orchestra owns, literally and musically, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Stokowski commissioned the work in 1940 and Rachmaninoff created with the players of the Philadelphia Orchestra in mind. Nézet-Séguin brings a muscled and detailed performance and showcasing the dimensional sonics of the orchestra’s brass section. Without doubt The Philadelphians own this lustrous repertory work.

Lewis Whittington



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