An Evening at PhilOrch

We find ourselves returning* to Verizon Hall in the Philadelphia Kimmel Center again and again for the 2022-23 season for three simple reasons: First, the predominant talent and skill of the Philadelphia Orchestra; second, the magnificent acoustics of Verizon Hall—where every seat we have taken allows for audial clarity free of reverberations, echos, or muted sound; and third, to see the musical choices of each different conductor. 

We have discussed the professionals behind the instruments’ depth of skill in previous reviews. They continue to produce what each different conductor exacts from them. 

My favorite conductor has been and continues to be Yannic Nézet-Séguin, but how did the traditionally Russian Romanticism style of Nathalie Stutzmann merge with the orchestra in tonight’s performance? Very well. 

In her capable hands the orchestra was able to breathe life into both pieces, and the performers seemed to respond to her style better than the other guest or non-principle conductors of the season.

The concert consisted of Bruch’s Concerto for Clarinet, Viola, and Orchestra in E minor Op. 88. Ms. Stutzmann brought out the flowing and achingly beautiful lyrical nature of the piece, which brought an almost healing atmosphere into the auditorium. 

The program listed Ricardo Morales as “one of the most sought-after clarinetists today.” This significantly understated his skill, including the ability to smooth and round out the tone of his clarinet while playing with incredible speed or when holding out a note with a clear vibrato-less tone to tug on the emotions. 

The other soloist, Choong-Jin Chang, played wonderfully, although his part in the piece merely complimented and emphasized Mr. Morales’ performance.

The orchestra continued without intermission into Dvorák’s famous Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95: From the New World. This was the composer’s first work after arriving in America. He became enamored with the raw and original “promised land” (his description), and penned this piece, which drew upon both new ideas and existing themes. The work adopted so-called “Indian themes” (composer’s notes) that were culturally associated with the perceived music of Native Americans. 

There is a tendency in many recordings of this piece to make it bigger, bolder, and more aligned with America’s reputation for bombastic brashness than I believe the composer intended. Such choices miss out on the sweeping themes and bounding interplay between the different lyrical lines. 

Ms. Stutzmann did not hold the orchestra back in many parts of the piece, but she ensured that the threads between the bold weave were clearly defined and a definitive part of the overall tapestry. Her interpretation allowed me to hear better than previous listens where Copland and American composers pulled what have become uniquely American compositional harmonies and motifs.  

The performance again showed why hearing Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall should be as much of a bucket list stop for lovers of music as Fenway Park is for baseball fans. If you are in the greater Philidelphia area, don’t miss out on an opportunity to hear just how wonderful concert music can sound. 

*we were invited to facilitate a feature, all opinions are my own*

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