After a rousing “Star Spangled Banner” on Wednesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which the huge crowd exuberantly sang, the Philadelphia Orchestra opened its 53rd season in grand style.
Working under conductor Stephane Deneve, they began with one of their signature pieces: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade” (1888). It’s a showpiece for the orchestra and spotlighted the virtuosic playing of many principle players, especially that of concertmaster David Kim, who is the voice of Sheherazade. He played with strong phrasing, sang his melodies eloquently and with great feeling.
Deneve paced the work, which has many sections, with relaxed tempos that flowed along like a great river. The sound was glorious. The strings were silken, the connections so smooth that beginning and endings of phrases seemed invisible. Color blazed with dramatic highs and tranquil lows. The huge crowd erupted with cheers and loud applause and a standing ovation.
Sibelius’ plaintive “Valse Triste” (1903) introduced seven women dancers from the 50-year old modern dance company Philadelphia Dance Company who slowly worked into Ravel’s sensuous “La Valse” (1920) along with two male dancers. Marvelous costumes designed by Frankie Fehr of black voluminous skirts decorated with a gold metallic circular design and Gene Hill Sagari’s swirling, twirling, spinning choreography brought the waltz to life. They danced, bare foot, with an intense abandon almost like leaves dancing in the wind. Their arms stretched high, their arched backs so supple. Every move among the group or in pas de deux was precise and synchronized.
The orchestra swayed, swooned, and spun out the sinuous lines with Deneve often turning to watch the dancers. It was thrilling and the crowd roared its delight with another standing ovation.
The finale was Tchaikovsky’s “Solemn Overture, 1812,” a warhorse that the orchestra made sound as fresh as if they’d never played it before. Cannons roared from the south side of the amphitheater, the crowd went wild, and fireworks finished the evening.
Thursday is a matinee featuring Stravinsky, Ravel and Bach and Friday will be works by Britten, Ravel, and Debussy. Deneve conducts both concerts.