A beautiful summer night with a crescent moon and more than 1,660 people gathered on the lush lawns and in the amphitheater of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Wednesday to greet the return of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s four-night residency.
Before the show got started, however, Sharon Plewinski and Sarah Butterick, both of Malta, were relaxing in their lawn chairs.
“It’s a girl’s night out,” Butterick said. “It’s a beautiful evening to hear music.”
Plewinski, who often listens to classical music, said she was glad the orchestra was back.
“But it’s too short a season,” she said.
SPAC CEO Elizabeth Sobol greeted the crowd and asked, “are you as euphoric as we are all tonight? Having the orchestra here feels utterly miraculous.”
Concertmaster David Kim entered to lots of hoots followed by music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who said “hello Saratoga.” He also told the crowd that the pandemic allowed him to get his piano chops in shape and to learn new music, which included the Mozart Concerto No. 12 in A major and to record the Florence Price Symphony No. 1.
The mostly string orchestra then launched into a smooth, almost gentle version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that many in the crowd sang. Nezet-Seguin sat down at the keyboard with his back to the crowd and conducted the opening movement of the Mozart. One of 27 that the composer wrote, Nezet-Seguin called this one special with a middle movement that was “delightful, light and a chance to enjoy Mozart’s humanity.”
The opening movement was indeed very beautiful with flowing laughing lines and a cheerful mood. After a long introduction, the piano enters and Nezet-Seguin showed a light touch, sensitive phrasing and a clean technique. The second movement at a much slower pace was thoughtful with the pianist stretching the phrases musically. The third movement was buoyant and sparkled.
Price’s work is groundbreaking, Nezet-Seguin said. This symphony premiered in the 1930s with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra but despite it being a masterpiece, he said, the work, like many written by people of color and especially by women, fell out of favor. He, however, has fallen in love with her work and has recorded at least three of her symphonies.
The first movement was well orchestrated, very colorful with a lot of themes passed around among the winds. Interestingly, like many composers of color such as William Grant Still, the harmonies and scales they use have a distinct quality, which Nezet-Seguin calls the “American idiom.” Something that Dvorak tapped into for his “New World Symphony.”
The second movement had a brass chorale that moved in and out of the work and ended very quietly. The third was a terrific “Juba Dance” that was catchy, rhythmic and too short. The fourth moved quickly with fast flowing scalar lines and a lot of color.
These works all received huge applause, often after a movement, lots of hoots and cheers.
Tonight the program includes works by Valerie Coleman, Bach and Brahms. The concert has no intermission and lasts about 90 minutes.