Orchestra ushers in season with a bang

Philadelphia Orchestra takes many bows, and deservedly so
Stéphane Denève conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra Wednesday as it opens its 12-performance stay at SPAC in Saratoga Springs.
Stéphane Denève conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra Wednesday as it opens its 12-performance stay at SPAC in Saratoga Springs.

Categories: Entertainment

The fabulous Philadelphia Orchestra opened its 52nd season Wednesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in a wide ranging and interesting program. 

After a rousing “Star Spangled Banner” that many in the crowd sang, the concert began with Serge Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances, Op.45,” dedicated to and premiered by the Philadelphia in 1941. It was the composer’s last composition before he died in 1943. In three movements, it made for a poetic beginning for an evening that ended with cannon roar and fireworks.

The piece is a masterpiece of great detail, soaring melodies, a lush orchestration, and great inventiveness. The orchestra sounded superb under conductor Stephane Deneve, who gave the work breath, strong nuances, a subtle dynamic range, and drama.

The first movement showed off the orchestra’s supple, silken ensemble work. The second movement was a sinuous, taunting, mysterious waltz with swirls of color. The third changed meters from a big sound with lots of brass and color to more thoughtful sections before returning to a driving wild finale with a vibrant energy. The huge crowd had been rapt throughout and cheered and whistled.

Deneve greeted the crowd after intermission with his usual charm. He also presented a new piece, “Maslenitsa,” (2012) by French composer Guillaume Connesson, whose work he champions. It was very bright, colorful, festive and technically challenging. An inner section had long soaring lines and tone clusters.

Mayara Pineiro and Sterling Baca, principal dancers with the Pennsylvania Ballet, performed the pas de deux from Minkus’ “Don Quixote.” They were excellent. She’s a tiny thing, originally from the National Ballet School of Cuba, with a perky personality, precise technique and a wonderfully straight back. Baca, who worked with American Ballet Theatre, was macho, stylish and did fabulous leaps and turns. The audience leaped to its feet with a roar of delight. The two got several bows.

The finale was Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” The orchestra made it sound as fresh as if they’d never played it before. Deneve took his time, allowed the melodies and rhythms to settle in, which inspired several people in the crowd to bob their heads in time. The cannons blasted, the piece ended triumphantly and pandemonium broke out: a standing ovation, huge and loud applause, whistles, and many bows for Deneve and the orchestra. Then the bang of fireworks.

Friday is “The Planets: An HD Odyssey” with NASA footage. Saturday is movie night.

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