Philadelphia Orchestra 2023-4 Season Openers

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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The Philadelphia Orchestra kicked off their new season with a gala opening performance on Sept. 28, with Yannick Nezet- Seguin on the podium and Yo-Yo Ma centerstage, and a tony fundraising reception for the orchestra in the Kimmel Center that raised a cool mil. The first week of their regular season Oct. 3 was another sellout crowd there for Broadway superstar Audra McDonald led by Andy Einhorn, McDonald’s musical director and veteran Broadway conductor.

Einhorn opened with symphonic fireworks of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Carousel and before the applause died down Audra McDonald strolled onstage, dressed in a gorgeous blue and white floral, and launched into Jerry Hermann’s gay belter anthem from La Cage au Folles’  her voice soaring right out of the gate. And Verizon sounded like a soccer stadium after her last note. McDonald immediately started engaging with the audience “I sing that because I believe in its message.”

Next Audra’s silver soprano perfect for Leslie Recuse and Anthony Newley ‘Pure Imagination from the 1971 film ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In two songs she kicked off an altogether Olympic evening of Broadway showtunes featuring full symphonic orchestrations by Einhorn and McDonald bringing something unique right out of the gate with accompaniment from her stellar trio- Jeremy Jordan (piano), Gene Lewin (Drums, guitar) and Mark Vanderpoel (Bass).

Among the many musical highlights-

McDonald’s voice in full bloom on the Gershwins ‘Summertime’ her indelible phrasing and interpretive artistry bringing an understated grace to this modern masterpiece. A shimmering arrangement and soulful rendition of Charles Smalls ‘Home’ from ‘The Wiz,’ McDonald noting that when she saw it, the show made her feel finally being represented in a Broadway musical.
The orchestra was in vintage big band zone on Duke Ellington’s ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If you ain’t got that Swing) the musicians singing the ‘doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah’s to McDonald’s jazz-mezzo vocal. This was classic Duke indeed, but the Fabulous Philadelphians were swinging out ala the Basie Band, with extra kick via Jordan’s piano runs and Levin’s drums. ‘

McDonald jokes that she is now old enough to play the lead in ‘Hello Dolly’ and she certainly demonstrated that she has the pipes to knock ‘Before the Parade Passes By’ out of park with fireworks, This concert hall sounded like a soccer stadium by the last note.

She kept the laughs coming in a raunchy blues burner by Jelly Roll Morton with its metaphor about ‘perking her coffee.’ (featuring a sultry piano riffs and Bourbon St. muted horns, with McDonald shamelessly vamping. Later, she also camped it up on “Can’t Stop Talking about him!” a rapid-fire comedy number from Frank Loesser originally sung by Betty Hutton in the Fred Astaire “Let’s Dance.”

McDonald chose several numbers with a social justice message of embracing diversity in a perilous time for politically marginalized groups. Meanwhile, This is a song for those who are ‘othered.’ Othered by society…for race, gender, or preference.” McDonald has always been a strong ally in advocating for GLBTQ+ rights.

She introduced her version of ‘Bein Green’ from Sesame Street stating that she now knows that the song, this is a song for those who are ‘othered.’ by people because of their, “race, gender, or preference.” She sang it with whispery intimacy with solo an accompaniment by Gene Lewin on acoustic guitar.

On a medley of ‘You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught’ (from R&H’s South Pacific) and Children Will Listen (from Sondheim’s Into the Woods) in a soaring arrangement and McDonald’s powerful vocals delivering a clarion message, saying afterward that “both songs say the same thing. Decades apart. We need that message now more than ever.”’

Audra said she always resisted ‘Cabaret’ “because it was too iconic” she was talked into singing by none other than Vogue editor Anna Wintour at MOMA. In a scrambling arrangement, which lurched from Broadway showstopper to Weill-y vamp.

McDonald and Einhorn dueted on the famous mash up sung by Streisand and Garland on Judy’s TV show in the early 60s. ‘Get Happy’ and the Depression era standard ‘Happy Days are Here Again.

Verizon Hall, Oct. 6-8 | Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Conductor Daniil Trifonov, Piano

Yannick Nezet-Seguin was back on the podium by the first weekend in October in three performances with soloist Daniil Trifonov performing George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F on a program with William Grant Still’s Symphony no. 4 and Anne Clyde ‘The Moment’ is a musical response to the humanitarian crises of disease, war, poverty, upheaval of recent years.
The concert opened with Trifonov’s intense interpretive artistry on Gershwin’s

‘Piano Concerto in F.’ Nezet-Seguin knows how to go deep into a showpiece work, and the balance he sustains co-piloting with Trifonov to land all elements of this Gershwin masterpiece is thrilling.

The percussive booms opening bars of Gershwin’s Piano concerto in F ignites this concerto right out of the gate and makes the first piano solo lines in Trifonov’s hands all the more driven and inside the work’s lyrical intimacy.

Midway through the Allegro, Trifonov throws his whole body into this work as he lunges over the keyboard, his fingers flying and in service of Gershwin’s signature musicality. Trifonov is always in the zone with the full orchestra to articulate every dimension of a composition. It is not an overstatement to say that they rocked this concerto. After a long-standing O and three returns for bows, Trifonov gamely played an encore rarity Suite in A Minor by Jean-Phillippe Rameau. He was performing on the orchestra’s new Steinway grand, (which he helped pick out) and based on this performance, it proved a perfect fit to pierce the sometimes-dry piano projection in Verizon Hall.

Part two of the concert opened with Anna Clyne’s ‘This Moment’ (2022) an arresting short work  inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s book on Zen calligraphy and Mozart’s 1791 Requiem Mass. The first half of this short gloaming soundscapes. Clyne’s seemingly amorphous  streams that open on the strata of a Requiem, altogether a meditation on grief and loss the world has experienced in recent years. 

Still’s Symphony No. 4 (Autochthonous) The opening atmospheric of Still’s command of the Americana postmodern era. Followed by three movements with blues, jazz and spiritual themes, symphonic fusion that illuminates Still’s mastery of form, both Eurocentric and as an innovative American composer.. The concert was being recorded for YNS Deutsche Grammophon release, and he announced his plans to record perform and record more of Still’s large catalogue of symphonic works. .

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