Jerry Nicklas figured you couldn’t go wrong to bring four of his friends for Wednesday’s opening night of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
“What better way for friends to get together,” he said.
Seated next to him on the lawn in front of a table filled with “nibbles” — dinner would be pulled out later along with candles — were Pat Hoffman of Malta, Bill Kramek of Guilderland and Corinne Williams and Gloria Mazure, both from Delmar. The group of friends comes often to the orchestra and with Wednesday night’s warm but comfortable temperatures, it was the place to be.
“It’s so relaxing to have our wine and champagne,” Nicklas said.
Seated a bit farther away by himself was Jan Roth, who biked over.
“I’ve been coming for 35 years,” Roth said. “I prefer the lawn to being inside. It’s a total experience.”
He said he wasn’t sure about the new offerings this season that include two nights of Cirque de la Symphonie and “Casablanca” for film night.
“I might come with friends to the movie,” he said. “Whatever brings people in is good.”
The crowd, which had grown by concert time to cover the lawn and fill a good portion of the amphitheater, was in for a blockbuster program. Conductor Marin Alsop, whose parents live locally, was on the podium and violin superstar Sarah Chang was the featured soloist.
After a rousing national anthem, Alsop led an orchestra at top form in Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 3.” She set easy comfortable tempos that transitioned seamlessly and asked for a wide range of dynamics. The orchestra has a wonderful coordination within itself that goes toward producing its mellow golden tone. Alsop’s reading had a lovely personal sensibility that was joyous and gave the piece much ebb and flow.
Chang then came on to play Bruch’s Violin Concerto. Dressed in a bombshell of a scarlet, form-fitting, silk dress with a flounce that she said later was “off the rack” at Dolce & Gabbana’s, Chang played with great drama, showmanship, passion, deeply bowed phrases and a rich tone.
Her technical passages were impeccable, her rhythms were precise and clean. Most of all, she stated everything with a boldness and intensity, sometimes arching her back or tossing her hair. Her face radiated her feeling. There seems more emotional maturity in her playing, which always is marvelous.
Alsop and the orchestra was with her every step of the way with Alsop often watching Chang’s every move.
For more drama, the crowd got Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”). Alsop stretched the phrases to make the melodies swoon, built the climaxes dramatically or danced lightly in the frothier moments. The orchestra sounded superb.
The audience responded so enthusiastically that the orchestra, in a rare move, gave them an encore: Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 21 in E minor.” Wow!
Tonight is “Casablanca” and the original film score played live.