Review: Orchestra closes SPAC season with spectacular Spectacular (with photo gallery)

Saturday night’s final concert of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s season at the Saratoga Performing Art

Saturday night’s final concert of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center wasn’t the standard Tchaikovsky Spectacular.

Besides the impressive SPAC debut of the orchestra’s assistant conductor, Cristian Macelaru, it was the first time in decades that two dancers from the New York City Ballet graced the stage in two different pas de deux. With the orchestra seated behind them, Tiler Peck, a principal since 2009, and Chase Finlay, a member of the corps since 2009, danced the pas de deux from “Swan Lake” and from “The Nutcracker.” Considering that they had no scenery and no special lighting but only their costumes, the two dancers created magic — Finlay as the heroic prince and Peck either as the white swan or as Clara.

What made their participation so much more dramatic was how stark the contrast was between the seated musicians and the disciplined athleticism of the dancers. It also brought home that the ballet company will be at SPAC only for a week next year. It would be a sin if SPAC loses the dancers, and based on the fervent applause and standing ovation that the audience gave them, they would be greatly missed.

Macelaru, who had to conduct with his back to the dancers, didn’t seem to miss a cue. Concertmistress Juliette Kang played the “Swan Lake” solo with fetching poignancy.

The concert had many of the huge crowd’s favorites, which the orchestra played as if for the first time. Macelaru took his own approach, focused on setting off each piece’s colors, rhythms and textures. He showed an exceptional sense of pacing, whether with tempos or building to a climax. He was intent, precise and focused throughout.

The concert began with “Capriccio Italien.” From slow, deep and rich sounds and various wind solos, it moved through dance rhythms, whimsy, a flurry of wind solos and sweeping gestures. The crowd roared its approval. “Marche Slave” had lots of color that built to a robust, rousing volume with great brass playing.

New to the program was “Jurists” march, which Tchaikovsky wrote for the 50th anniversary of the School of Jurisprudence in 1885. Majestic, colorful and obviously celebratory, with the composer’s usual lyrical stamp, it did what it was supposed to do.

In contrast was the light and frothy “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker,” with the opening harp cadenza played brilliantly by Elizabeth Hainen.

After the audience gave a standing ovation to the pas de deux in “The Nutcracker,” they were thrilled to get a bit more: two solos each dancer took before their final spin.

For the finale, it could only be the “Solemn Overture, 1812,” which was complete with live cannon. Although the work was meant to celebrate the consecration of a Moscow cathedral in 1880, venues these days turn it into a military celebration. At SPAC that included numerous re-enactors from the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War.

Macelaru took his time building to the famous sections with strong accents and strong phrasing to end in great flair. After huge applause, whistles, and numerous curtain calls, fireworks ended the evening.

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