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Overview: A Conductor Surprises by Embracing the Abnormal


The conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen tends to get seen for his bold, even outlandish initiatives.

Fragrance cannons puffing out scent alongside the music. A uncommon efficiency of one of many piano’s most gargantuan concertos. Up to date opera within the live performance corridor. A roboticist being included amongst his inventive collaborators. Ample helpings of his personal works. (Salonen is the uncommon maestro who can also be a profitable composer.)

However as soon as all of the fragrance has dissipated, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Salonen, who led the New York Philharmonic on Wednesday at David Geffen Corridor, is, at core, merely a wonderful conductor.

The Philharmonic program was uncommon for him in that it was so, effectively, uncreative. No premieres, no stagings, no intriguing juxtapositions. Simply two basic items — Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” — that, within the type of old school orchestra programming, appeared to have been thrown collectively arbitrarily. And but it was a terrific live performance, overseen by Salonen along with his attribute fiery readability.

Fiery readability is an efficient means of describing his most up-to-date profession transfer, too. Classical music is, outwardly at the very least, meticulously well mannered. Few musicians go away positions amid publicly verbalized anger.

However in March, when Salonen introduced he wouldn’t renew his contract because the music director of the San Francisco Symphony, he instructed the reality — or at the very least his fact. He had made his resolution, he stated, “as a result of I don’t share the identical targets for the way forward for the establishment because the Board of Governors does.”

By the trade’s requirements, this was an expletive-ridden rant. It shortly grew to become clear that the issue was cash. The San Francisco Symphony has hobbled out of the pandemic much more deficit-laden than it was earlier than; its costly guarantees to Salonen — like that group of inventive collaborators, roboticist and all — had been going to have to be curtailed.

The humorous factor about Wednesday’s live performance in New York is that it was precisely the form of program that might be his future had Salonen chosen to stay in San Francisco: meat and potatoes repertoire, with out the flamboyant trimmings.

However even with out them, the Philharmonic performed fantastically for him on Wednesday. The Shostakovich concerto was dotted with eerily mellow rips of brass close to the beginning, a hushed nightfall within the strings firstly of the second motion and characterful pierces from the winds within the last Allegro. Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the soloist, performed with a wealthy but targeted tone, and he didn’t take pleasure in extreme emotion. This resulted in a efficiency that was modest, straight-faced and basically serene — but in addition a bit of cool, a bit of environment friendly. The piece appeared to sail by briskly.

It was onerous to recollect the concerto in any respect after the monster that’s Berlioz’s “Symphonie.” Final yr, I wrote that the Philharmonic’s rendition of this rating beneath Herbert Blomstedt was “leisurely, mellow, completely pastoral.” That might hardly have been farther from Salonen’s neurotically unsettled, icy-hot take, which grabbed each alternative to emphasise off-kilter rhythms and changeable textures.

The opening “Reveries, Passions” part had a dewy freshness to the sound that would shift, in a second, to intense fullness, after which again once more. Salonen couldn’t hold the lengthy central “Scene within the Fields” part from feeling prefer it lingers. However it had quietly been constructing rigidity, with an undercurrent of tension — an anticipation of the trembling violas a bit of in a while — even in Ryan Roberts’s quiet, plangent English horn shepherd calls.

Salonen embraced the sudden swerves and floodlit brashness of the “March to the Scaffold,” which was, as it’s too not often, genuinely scary. And the finale, “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” was raucous however by no means messy — a ferocious, incredible social gathering.

New York Philharmonic

This program continues via Saturday at David Geffen Corridor, Manhattan; nyphil.org.



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