The final week of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center gave huge crowds the pleasure and privilege of watching the orchestra’s music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin in action.
Although economical in his stick technique, his animated face with the boyish grin, expansive gestures, his deeply felt musicality and uncorked energy make him a dynamo on the podium. He’s like a medium through flows whom the music to which the orchestra responds.
On Wednesday, after a dramatic Brahms “Tragic Overture,” concertmaster David Kim took a prizefighter’s stance and delivered a virtuosic Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. His clarity of technique and rhythm had an inner vibrancy that supported his lovingly produced phrases. Nezet-Seguin and the orchestra gave stellar support.
In Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony,” Nezet-Seguin created drama, mystery and sweetness behind great drive and forward momentum. It was a sensational reading and the crowd went wild with repeated curtain calls. “For an encore, come back tomorrow,” yelled Nezet-Seguin.
The musicians’ versatility was showcased Thursday in two small ensembles in either traditional Appalachian-style tunes or with guest erhu player Jiebing Chen.
Nezet-Seguin shared the piano with Wu Han to alternate piano four-hands with orchestral sections in Ravel’s sweet “Mother Goose Suite.” Illuminating everything all evening was a light show of varied shifting colors, a first. Later, the orchestra performed gloriously in the majestic Tchaikovsky “Symphony No. 5” with Nezet-Seguin working without a score or baton and having as much fun as the musicians.
Friday featured serene playing from the strings in Dvorak’s “Serenade in E Major,” and the impassioned, soaring tones of violinist Joshua Bell in Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor. He displayed his trademark flawless technique and not a little body English, which was a little distracting. Nezet-Seguin and the orchestra provided additional high drama and fabulous sound.
After such an effort, the orchestra sounded a bit tired in Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3,” but energy returned by the second movement with exceptional ensemble work and continued to the blazing finale.
Saturday’s concert ranged from a rollicking, ebullient “Autumn” from Glazunov’s “The Seasons” to a sparky “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky, complete with cannons and fireworks. In between were the gorgeous tones of Stokowski’s arrangement of a melancholy Rachmaninoff piano Prelude in C-sharp minor; a marvelous, whimsical, colorful “Mixed Messages” by 34-year-old Vermont composer Nico Muhly; and the sensational debut of much-awarded 22-year-old pianist Beatrice Rana in Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult “Concerto No. 2.” Unfazed by the demands, Rana cooly skated over them all, adding much nuance along the way.
Composer Michael Torke was commissioned to write a work to celebrate SPAC’s 50th anniversary next year.
“It was a complete surprise. It’s a dream job,” Torke said at intermission, adding that he promised to make the work “uplifting.”