By Magnus Blechohr
The season at the Phil has been one of frequent and pleasant surprises. Over a relatively short period of time Andrew Constantine has transformed the orchestra from above-average to superb, from excellent to electric.
Any one who witnessed the inspired and energetic performance by guest pianist Ilya Yakushev last night would agree. Those who tried to sit through the performance fairly exploded from chairs last night at the Embassy to cheer, shout, stomp and applaud for three curtain calls. Then, someone in the orchestra started a rhythmic clap that caught on, finally forcing the baby-faced virtuoso to return to his piano for an encore.
The performance that brought the house down was a piece by fellow Russian Sergei Prokoviev. The liner notes to the concert suggest a titanic struggle between piano and orchestra, an argument, punch counter-punch but it was much more complex than that. In parts it sounded like French impressionism of the Debussy era, sometimes a bit of West Side Story, parts like a Nor’easter, elements of romance, melancholy and pathos, but on the whole it was more a gymnastic, exuberant exhibition of a hot young pianist with enthusiastic, precise orchestral support. The performance deserved the standing, shouting, tumultuous ovation; it was that good. Then, for his encore, the rising star of a pianist settled into what sounded of the introspection of Chopin – soft, restrained, understated and very melancholy. Again, the audience was on its feet, this round of applause and cheering a bit more restrained, but the appreciation for Yakushev, for the leadership of Constantine and for the elegance of some 70 professional musicians in almost perfect harmony and cohesion was prolonged and loving.
The Brahms that finished the evening and the Weber that started the performance were not as electric, but certainly unusual, well-performed and interesting pieces. The Brahms piece, to be fair, ended in a prolong torrent of notes that on a violinist’s music sheets seen from high above looked as if an army of ants had taken over the page. There were a profusion of notes to be played in a very short bit of time. The audience was again on its feet. The evening was well worth the standing ovations and the cheering.
You see, over the years those who love the full voice of a symphony orchestra have been entertained in Fort Wayne at the Embassy by mostly familiar pieces from the first level of the symphonic repertoire. Director Constantine has brought quite a few lesser heard works to the stage and treated them with sensitivity. Each performance has been a combination of music and education, the lush sounds of our orchestra and a thoughtful presentation that brings the emotions of the composer through each score.
Last night, during the performances, it was nice to see that members of the orchestra was engrossed in the music even when their instrument was momentarily mute. They seemed, at times, in their own little trances, the music was that sublime. The musicians, too, appreciate the great music they are presenting, just as much as the audience.
An evening at the Philharmonic is more than three big pieces and an intermission. It is watching the verve of Hiromi Ito, the concert master, it is enjoying the passion that the conciliatory named Campbell McDonald puts into his clarinet, and Debra Graham’s gentle embrace of her viola. In another row Adrian Mann and his fellow bassists bow and pluck their uprights with equal measures of tenderness and muscle. So, it goes from the violins in front to the percussion section in the back where placing the cymbal down quietly and seating oneself when wearing tails his risen to a fine art; they are a gorgeous looking team in white tie and black tails, heels and long gowns.
So, now, on to another performance this Friday and Sunday with a Happy Hour thrown in prior to the Friday early evening presentation. It looks to be the music of W. A. Mozart fronted by a group of costumed actors and singers playing the master, his coquettish wife, the Empress, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and the prodigy’s tyrannical father. I am sure Mr. Constantine will have a few surprised in store. If this smaller concert is anything like last night it will be well worth the few bucks at the gate.