I heard the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on 11/13/18. The draw of the program was Joyce Di Donato singing Chausson’s *Poème de l’amour et de la mer,* a singer I like a lot and a piece I’ve always wanted to hear. I was also interested to hear and see their artistic director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin in a concert context. I’ve heard him a few times at the Met (he took over as their music director last year when they fired James Levine), but was interested to actually SEE him conducting.
Here’s the program:
Wagner: Prelude to Act I of *Lohengrin*
Mason Bates: *Anthology of Fantastic Zoology*
Chausson: *Poème de l’amour et de la mer*
Respighi: *Fountains of Rome*
The thing that was most wonderful about the program is that they're four very different pieces, but they worked together very well. That's genius programming.
I’ve been afflicted with a *Lohengrin* fixation for over a year, and yet had never heard any of it live. It was a joy to hear it, hear all of the colors that don’t come across in a recording, and especially fun to watch the string players really sawing away on those tremolos. Nézet-Séguin conducted it with a marvelous looseness, a sense that it was often in danger of going out of synch, but never actually getting there. I found that fresh and exciting.
I’d never heard of Mason Bates and was especially intrigued to see that he’s only 41 years old. The piece, *Anthology of Fantastic Zoology,* was inspired by a book with that title by Jorge Luis Borges, a compendium of mythological animals. I loved the piece, the opening and finale in particular. The opening was dazzling, sparkling - - I thought of *The Wonderful World of Disney,* a TV show from my childhood. I hadn’t thought about THAT for a while.
The music was original but with strong whiffs of other composers: Stravinsky, Strauss, Messiaen, Berg. Hey, if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best! There was lots of percussion, they played a big part in the tonal atmosphere. My favorite thing about the piece is that it was music with a purpose. It was overtly colorful and expressive, it was forward-moving but never rushed, nor was it afraid to linger. Maybe it went on a little too long, my mind was wandering by the end. But the big finish knocked me out, literally took my breath away. It was exciting, audacious, vibrant, muscular.
Joyce Di Donato came out for the Chausson wearing a gorgeous dark green gown. Did you know that dark green was my favorite color? Did she know? The piece was very beautiful, very cinematic, even though it’s from the 19th century. Maybe it’s because I saw the Hitchcock movie again recently, but a lot of the piece made me feel like I was in Rebecca's bedroom at Manderley.
I like Di Donato very much, have heard her quite a few times at the Met. She’s an intelligent singer with a lovely, delicate voice, but I want to hear this piece again with a different singer, someone with a more meaty sound. Worst of all, once again she did this thing I’ve heard her do over the last couple years, she sang with a sort of disembodied sound, what we call going “off the voice.” I don’t like that, it’s a bad habit, and she needs to knock it off.
The highlight of the piece was the applause when it ended. It was a quiet, desolate ending, and Nézet-Séguin stood there with his arms and his head down, letting the heaviness really sink in. The audience started to applaud and he turned, took the two steps off the podium, the two steps over to Di Donato, and walked right into her arms. She’s taller than him, so that made it even more tender and touching.
I wrote down just two words for the Respighi: high kitsch! A perfect piece to end the program, a delightful confection.