Saratoga Springs

Orchestra closes SPAC residency with unforgettable music

The audience, which had been spellbound, responded with thundering applause and a standing ovation
A scene from the Philadelphia Orchestra's opening night
A scene from the Philadelphia Orchestra's opening night

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The final two nights of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center were of glorious music making.

On Friday, the huge crowd said goodbye to music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin, whose two-week presence was a privilege of watching a great conductor evoke marvelous things from a superb group of musicians. Huge waves of positive energy greeted him every night, to which he responded in kind. The concert also included an equally marvelous performance from violinist Joshua Bell in Bruch’s Violin Concerto.

Dvorak’s darkly ruminative “Othello,” which paraphrased Shakespeare’s play, was up first. Solemn, long expressive lines and dreamy contemplation ended with ferocity. The orchestra’s ensemble was seamless.

The Bruch, which Bell recently recorded, has soaring romance, pathos, great elation and fervor with a solo violin part full of technical challenges and long passages of great passion. Bell exceeded anyone’s expectations. His fabulous, precise technique, strongly nuanced melodies and the sensitive arch he gave to his phrases were riveting. Every note had meaning. Nezet-Seguin followed him phrase to phrase watching him closely with an energetic orchestra that was totally supportive. The audience, which had been spellbound, responded with thundering applause and a standing ovation.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, which premiered in 1893, 10 days before he died, is an emotional journey of great depth. Nezet-Seguin, who made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut with this piece 10 years ago, was enthralled throughout and wrung every mote of meaning from the work. Often, he did not beat time, but let the music come through him, using his arms and hands to sculpt the phrases. It was an unbelievable performance and the audience knew that what they’d just heard was unforgettable.

Saturday was film night with the 1998 “The Red Violin” and John Corigliano’s Oscar-winning score and Bell as the voice of the violin. With the orchestra bathed in a red glowing light and under conductor Michael Stern, Bell excelled in re-creating the recorded score, which had numerous finger-twisting sections and a soaring romantic theme. He played with passion, a sometime nonchalance and good humor often smiling after a particularly tricky effort. The huge crowd applauded frequently. 

On Friday, Nezet-Seguin lauded three members of the orchestra who retired, each after almost four decades with each receiving a huge bouquet: percussionist Tony Orlando, flutist David Cramer and oboist Richard Woodhams.


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