NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
LUDOVIC MORLOT/ JENNIFER KOH
BERLIOZ/ ADAMS/ STRAVINSKY (2-5-10)
A TRUE DYNAMO

By Lawrence Budmen

Among the plethora of astoundingly gifted young conductors from France (including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's Stephane Deneve), Ludovic Morlot is creating a buzz of excitement in guest appearances around the globe. (Count the BBC Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony, Paris' Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Chicago Symphony and the orchestras of Montreal, Rotterdam, Cincinnati and Atlanta among the ensembles he leads during the 2009-2010 season.) This writer first heard Morlot, then assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, at Tanglewood in 2006 and 2007 conducting diverse programs featuring works by Berlioz, Ravel, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, George Perle and the young Dutch composer Robin De Raaf. His command of the orchestra was complete. He drew brilliant performances from the Boston players, marked by rich instrumental coloration and a sophisticated sense of style that combined elegance with impassioned fervor.

Morlot, a true dynamo of the podium, brought his brand of turbo charged energy and felicitous musicality to the New World Symphony on February 5, 2010 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, Florida, USA. The resulting music making was super charged with the excitement of artistic revelation.

Morlot turned the opening Les Francs-Juges Overture of Berlioz into a mini music drama, the ominous brass of the introduction filled with menace while the classical grace of the score's second theme was limbed with purity of tone and beautifully elongated turns of phrase. For all Berlioz's flashy orchestral mastery, Morlot reminded the listener that the composer held Gluck's rarified classicism in awe. In a lifetime of concert going, this critic has never heard this Berlioz work played with such refinement.

The conductor's affinity for contemporary music was given full sway in a stunning performance of John Adams' Violin Concerto by soloist Jennifer Koh. Not to be confused with the composer's 2004 concerto for five string electric violin The Dharma at Big Sur, this 1993 Adams opus is a virtuosso vehicle that tests the soloist's technique to its very limits. It is also one of this American composer's richest, most complex scores. After a series of works in the 1980's that emphasized repetitive minimalist rhythm and pulse, Adams' musical palette expanded impressively in the final decade of the twentieth century. Melody, harmony and tinted hues of instrumentation became as important as rhythmic underpinning.

The thematic richness of this concerto commences with Prokofiev infused writing in the first movement, the soloist soaring high above the insistent orchestra. (A dazzling, take no prisoners cadenza both challenges and displays the soloist's acumen.) The singing melodies of the second movement Chaconne beguile the ear, the violin carrying an almost vocal line. (Adams has said creating operas influenced the changes in his compositional and instrumental style.) The final Toccare is a fast paced display of fiddle fireworks and agility, akin to the finale of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto but on steroids. Adams saves one of his boldest strokes for last. The concerto ends with three unaccompanied chords from the solo violin.

Only violinists with the most exalted technique need apply to tackle Adams' tour de force. A 1994 winner of Moscow's Tchaikovsky Competition, Jennifer Koh has recast herself in recent seasons as a contemporary music specialist. Adams' super showpiece was the perfect vehicle for this violinist's extraordinary gifts. Koh's high wire intensity of utterance is wedded to flawless technique and fearless interpretive daring. The glistening tonal spectrum of the Chaconne and dare devil, rapid fire display of the finale were both served in brilliant, felicitous fashion. Bedecked in a flaming red gown, Koh was nothing short of stunning - a violinist of the highest level and a musician of subtlety and refined artistry.

Adams' orchestral scoring is surprisingly small in scale but includes such rare instruments as contrabass clarinet and vibraphone, the instrument long identified with the late Lionel Hampton. Only at the score's conclusion does the composer indulge his predilection for adding amplification to the musical performance (as in the Dharma concerto and his recent opera Dr. Atomic). Morlot led a rhythmically exacting, sensuous performance, the New World musicians playing at full throttle.

Morlot's infectious enthusiasm inspired the New World players to a first rate, truly balletic realization of Stravinsky's Petrouchka (in the 1947 orchestration). There was surprising astringency in the initial Shrovetide Fair scene, Morlot delineating a raft of colors and instrumental detail that go unnoticed in less transparent performances. Like Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta, Morlot emphasized the lower strings, the cello and bass lines strongly resonant and contrasting with the dissonant wind and brass writing. This gifted conductor's stunning control of large orchestral forces and the gifted young musicians' instrumental mastery produced a Petrouchka true to the score's primitive Russian folk roots and revolutionary modernism. A stunning rendition of a 20th century classic!

Robert Spano conducts the New World Symphony in Gershwin's An American in Paris, Barber's Violin Concerto (with soloist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg) and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.3 on February 20, 2010 at the Arsht Center in Miami, Florida, USA.

On February 28 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, New World musicians play Lutoslawski's Mini-Overture for Brass Quintet, Janacek's Youth, Chopin's Piano Trio (in honor of the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth) and Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No.1.

Principal Guest Conductor Alasdair Neale leads a Concerto Showcase on March 12 and 13. Nicholas McGegan conducts A Baroque Feast on March 27 and 28 featuring Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.1, Corelli's Concerto Grosso in D Major, C.P.E. Bach's Symphony in E Major and LeClair's Suite from Scylia and Glaucus.

On April 10 at the Arsht Center Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Mahler's Symphony No.5 and Copland's Piano Concerto (with soloist Jeremy Denk). On April 16, 17 and 18 at the Lincoln Theater, Tilson Thomas directs Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No.1, Dvorak's Symphony No.8 and Bartok's Piano Concerto No.2 (with soloist Yuja Wang).

The season concludes on April 25, 30 and May 1 with a festival Reflections of Debussy. jean Frederic Neuberger is piano soloist and Tilson Thomas conducts works by Debussy, Robin Holloway and Colin Matthews. For information, see www.nws.edu.

 


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