Stephane Deneve. Photo Drew Farrell.

Opening Night at SPAC, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stéphane Denève, with Garrick Ohlsson, Piano

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a distinguished tradition which has continued since its opening in 1966, began most splendidly with a Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff program led by Stéphane Denève with Garrick Ohlsson joining him for Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. This was my first visit to SPAC, so I’ll have to discuss what I heard in the context of the Center’s remarkable acoustics. Designed to seat 5200 people, the Center is slightly larger than the Music Shed at Tanglewood, but it has a surprisingly intimate feeling to it, as one traverses the grounds and descends the grassy slope, where the picnicking crowd can sit and hear the music very well—without amplification, as far as I could see or hear. It is only when one actually enters the hall and sees the orchestra dwarfed in the two-story space that one realizes just how vast it is. The stage is deep, and that has its own effect on the sound, making for a sense of spaciousness and, well, depth, which creates a rich semi-independent back-space for the winds, brass, and percussion. This interacts most impressively with the forward wave of the strings. In general the sound is bright and clear on the top without ever seeming harsh or wiry.

A SPAC concert in the early days

Classical Music at SPAC: The Philadelphia Orchestra and André-Michel Schub’s Chamber Music Festival

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center presents the Philadelphia Orchestra’s three-week residency in tandem with an outstanding chamber music program directed by André-Michel Schub.

I regret that I could not attend a pre=season concert in June, the Buffalo Philharmonic under their Music Director JoAnn Falletta, who has garnered a great deal of respect in the musical world for her work with the orchestra, or last Thursday’s Philadelphia program, endowed with the catchy title, “The Lure of Paris,” in which Jean-Yves Thibaudet joined Stéphane Denève in a program of Bernstein, Gershwin, and Ravel. Many of the programs carry this popular appeal even further.

Charles Dutoit.

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Davies Hall — A Great Legend Intact — Two Concerts

The Philadelphia Orchestra always WAS the sexiest!

Back in the publicity heyday of art music and the aftermath of Toscanini, Americans knew their five orchestras. It went like this: in Boston you listened to Charles Munch for Gallic excitability. In Chicago, Reiner ruled with a heart of stone but turned out warmer central European renditions than Toscanini had. You flocked to Bernstein for eruptive passion and disreputable energy in New York. And at Severance Hall, in a state of penance, you submitted to the owlish purges of George Szell. But nothing seduced the listener so much as The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy.

A Singer's Notes, 3: The Slavic Center – of Norman Treigle and The Philadelphia Orchestra

Here I am riding home on a dark, late summer night. The windows are down, crickets are singing. Making this trip is my Russian connection. Rachmaninoff and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Where I just was was where I stood and sang a few feet away from the death throes of Norman Treigle’s Boris. Nobody knows about him now, but he was a singing actor with the singularity of a Chaliapin or a Callas. Or maybe Callas and Chaliapin had the singularity of a Norman Treigle. I cannot be in Saratoga without his memory prompting me. Rachmaninoff once said that early in his career that he composed for the sound of Chaliapin’s voice, and later in his career for the sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Each year when I get to SPAC the orchestra seems younger. This was my chance to hear the Symphonic Dances he wrote for them, played by another great collective, three or four generations away now. I have long admired the intention, the glue that makes this darkest of American orchestras show us a macro kind of phrasing, how weight makes a line as effectively as detail. if the weight leans forward beautifully enough. Would they still have the sound, would they even know the sound? Would it matter if they had the sound? Sure would to me. Their sound through the decades has formed my idea of the Slavic center. A dark space, a hut, a cathedral with a sharp edge of flame. Is it a hearth fire or the apocalypse?

Remembering Ormandy – In Case You Were There, Too

Even before this 10-CD commemorative set was issued, I noticed a wash of nostalgia for Eugene Ormandy among baby boomers. He was inescapable for that generation, the progenitor of hundreds of LPs, only a sampling of which are contained here. Ormandy became Leopold Stokowski’s associate conductor at the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936 and succeeded him two years later, beginning an unparalleled run of 44 years as music director before retiring in 1980, a reign no one will ever duplicate, or would want to. During that time Ormandy led the orchestra between 100 and 180 times a year. That, too, is a staggering statistic given that modern music directors, in their eagerness to spread themselves globally, are essentially long-term guests who drop in to visit their home orchestras for as little as a quarter of the regular season.

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