Conductor Eric Jacobsen possesses the charismatic presence and technical chops of a gifted young conductor. His Music Director Debut concert at the Bob Carr last night was the much-anticipated inauguration of a thrilling collaboration with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, and, fittingly, there was magic in the music along the way.
The diverse orchestration of the balanced program allowed us to appreciate the different instrumental families of the OPO, and their collective achievement. Jacobsen and the OPO showed superb control during the moments when the orchestration is thinner. The fervent tutti passages also echoed the excitement of Jacobsen’s effusive arm gestures.
Beethoven’s brilliant Leonore Overture No. 3, discarded from his lone opera Fidelio, lacked some of the nuanced phrasing that gives the piece an air of etherealness in the very beginning, but soon picked up after the tempo change. Strong woodwind work, with emphasis from the timpani, gradually developed and ended in a vigorous mode.
For Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, South Korean soloist Joyce Yang rejoined the OPO to deliver a compelling interpretation of this ultra-Romantic piece. Only 29, Yang employs very polished phrasing, in which she highlights with clarity the melodies that sing on top of the left-hand harmonies. Her first statement of the main theme had a slight staccato touch, which gave the melody an elegant quality. Her cadenza was calculated and emotionally stimulating, with a sincere lyricism infused into the uppermost notes.
The work from the strings was strong, with each recurrence of the romantic opening theme projected with sweeping emotion. Except for a slightly wobbly brass entrance, this was a more than pleasing reading of the concerto.
Gabriel Kahane’s Freight & Salvage for string orchestra received its world premiere. It was a bit of a head scratcher: although the pieces of the puzzle were there, and the essential building material wasn’t inadequate, there was something missing to pull it all together. The composer, a singer/songwriter based in New York, describes the opening section as “a chaotic, fragmented paroxysm of scattered bits of information that nevertheless contains all the DNA for the whole piece,” which seems pretty accurate.
The problem seems to be that the “DNA” either doesn’t fully build up from the scattered bits or it’s not as substantial as it could have been. The strong part of the composition is the allusions to the song that inspired it, ‘Winter Song,’ and the subtle treatment Kahane gives to the strings to create individual compartments of sound. At the end he appends the song almost directly, though, which was softly sung by the string players. It seems that Kahane likes to explore different versions of his songs, as can be seen in the different versions of his comical Craigslistlieder, with lyrics culled from Craigslist ads.
Jacobsen and the OPO closed the program with a riveting performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe: Suite No. 2. A featured composer in the 2015-2016 season, Ravel is lauded for his lush and rich orchestration. The orchestra elucidated the elusive soundscapes of the score. At the heart of the suite, consisting of material from the full-length ballet of the same name, is an alluring flute solo, supported by alto flute and piccolo. Principal Flute Colleen Blagov delivered enchanting melodies. Augmented by two harps and tuba, the OPO sounded lush and powerful, although the overall dynamics could have been tweaked, so as not to overwhelm the climactic tutti statements, and preserve the contours of the melodies.
I wish the Bob Carr would make throat lozenges – or something – available in the lobby to their dear patrons; the nonstop, inconsiderate coughing is really a detriment to the experience of attentive audience members.
The Orlando Philharmonic Music Director Debut concert will be repeated today (Sunday 25) at a 2 p.m. matinee.
Click here for details and to order tickets.