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Robertson's performance shows director potential
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Robertson's performance shows director potential

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Symphony
with Leila Josefowicz
and David Robertson
June 13
Benaroya Hall


As the Seattle Symphony searches for a replacement for Music Director Gerard Schwarz, it would do well to give David Robertson serious consideration. Currently music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, this conductor revealed no weaknesses and an array of strengths as he led the SSO last Saturday night.

That the players liked working with him was immediately apparent in the opening work, "A Night on Bald Mountain" by Mussorgsky (orch. by Rimsky-Korsakov). When all sections of the Orchestra become tied together as if by an invisible web and they move as one; when each can still be heard even when the whole body is playing so softly that we approach the threshold of hearing; when we actually hear a response to every gesture of the conductor, then you know something is terribly right. Such was the effect in this concert, from beginning to end. The Mussorgsky warhorse showed us perhaps nothing new, nor was anything missing. It was hushed, mysterious, exciting, and lovely in proper proportion. A fine journey in this "program" music.

Thomas Ad├Ęs, a Londoner still in his 30s, wrote his 'Violin Concerto, "Concentric Paths"' in 2005. To help us into the language of this complex work, David Robertson, violinist Leila Josefowicz and the Orchestra began by demonstrating some of its compositional elements. The maestro began: "Good evening! My name is David, and I'll be your conductor tonight." He went on to explain that latecomers were being given this little break so that they wouldn't have to rush to their seats, possibly crushing audience members' toes. "It is a little distracting from the music to have homicidal thoughts in mind as you wince from damaged feet." Having established a certain charm and charisma, he demonstrated impressive skill in teaching musical ideas succinctly and effectively. He ended with, "We really like this piece!"

One can only give first impressions on hearing a new work for the first time, but I can tell you that it rewarded careful listening. The three movements were three, 10, and six minutes long, each very different from the others. None of it was boring; much of it was challenging and dissonant; yet some moments of the slow, middle movement were also lovely. Soloist Josefowicz gave a typically impassioned performance of a technically challenging part. The SSO seemed comfortable with the complex "modern" elements and tricky outbursts. Overall, it was a worthwhile excursion into a work one would like to explore more fully with repeated hearing.

The highlight of the program, however, was the original 1910 ballet music for 'The Firebird.' Here David Robertson and the SSO showed us what a different experience the complete ballet is, compared to Stravinsky's later suite, which is much more often heard. It's as if Stravinsky was saying in his suite version, "Here are my most brilliant ideas from the ballet." But don't think for a moment that the suite captures the essence of the ballet. The suite, compared to the complete ballet, is an almost cold intellectual display. What Robertson showed us was a gorgeous, lushly romantic work, full of passion and adventure.

The enlarged orchestra featured, among others, three harps placed at the front left of the stage along with the celeste. A closed piano, which I never heard, was on the right. The sound ranged all the way from super-hushed to warm, magnificent crescendos. Many first-chair players excelled, especially the flute of Scott Goff and the oboe of Ben Hausmann. But what impressed the most was, again, that invisible web, that pervasive cohesiveness that made the SSO sound like one being, capable of almost anything. The Stravinsky has never sounded more thrilling or more beautiful than this.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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