The Thursday and Friday night Philadelphia Orchestra concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center were of special interest, and, as such, each concert brought in huge crowds.
Thursday night featured Keith Lockhart, music director of the Boston Pops, in his debut to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Saratoga Race Course. All the music was geared toward horses, including the world premiere of Richard Danielpour’s “Serenade.” Lockhart gave a smoothly poised, personable presentation and conducted with clarity and precision.
Danielpour’s work, which deliberately quoted from the serenades of Tchaikovsky and Bernstein and racing motifs, might make it too connected to Saratoga. But its high energy, color and strong rhythms coupled with the shimmering, darker slow section appealed. It was a very accessible piece.
The program included two short, vibrant, jazzy Morton Gould pieces (“Flourishes and Gallop” and “Saratoga Quickstep”), von Suppe’s brassy Overture to “Light Cavalry,” suites from two horse movies — Randy Newman’s pastoral “Seabiscuit” (2003) and John Williams’ haunting and expansive “Dartmoor 1912” from “War Horse” (2011), four episodes from Copland’s rowdy and evocative score to “Rodeo.”
A short film, “The Horse,” which Tom Durkin narrated, glorified horses. The grand finale was Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell,” aka the theme to “The Lone Ranger.”
The orchestra was superb throughout. The audience roared its approval at every offering.
Friday’s thrilling concert, with the ebullient Stephane Deneve conducting, was a Bernstein Extravaganza with a dance focus that included three athletic dancers from the New York City Ballet and vocalist Rob Lorey in his SPAC debut. Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, ecstatically provided background on the genesis of her father’s work.
There were excerpts from Bernstein’s 1944 show “Fancy Free,” with Daniel Ulbricht, Chase Finlay and Andrew Veyette spinning, leaping, and dancing exuberantly; and “Something’s Coming,” from his 1957 show “West Side Story,” with Lorey and Finlay in sync. The orchestra alone played a suite from “West Side Story,” an iconic score which even today is still uniquely original, dynamic and marvelous. The huge crowd gave the orchestra a standing ovation. The playing was sensational.
The orchestra also performed Poulenc’s Suite from his 1940 ballet score “Les Biches,” which was sunny, light and sweetly lyrical, and closed the concert with Ravel’s “La Valse.” Set originally to a 1926 ballet, the work is a brilliant evocation of a Viennese waltz. But this waltz swirls, phrases swoon, colors explode, tempos hesitate and then plunge forward.
Deneve and the orchestra were fabulous. The audience applauded for a long time.
Tonight, globe-trotting cellist Yo-Yo Ma is the featured guest.