Philadelphia Orchestra
Photo: Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphians are still (Virtually) Fabulous

OUR World Now
Philadelphia Orchestra Digital Stage
2020-21 Digital Stage Opening program, September 30, 2020
broadcast on the Philadelphia Orchestra website~ www.philorch.org
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin Conductor
Lang Lang,Piano
Steve Martin, Banjo
Angel Blue, Soprano
Billie Jean King, guest

Philadelphia Orchestra maestro  Yannick Nézet-Séguin returned to the stage with the orchestra after six months, on the day it was announced that Metropolitan Opera, where he is also musical-director, would remain shut down for another year, The Philadelphians were onstage in an empty Mann Center in Fairmount Park, in September and it was particularly poignant to see the Met’s Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin onstage conducting.

The Philadelphians were masked, safely distanced and behind Plexiglas partitions on the large stage of the Mann Center in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.  They performed selections from Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Verdi’s Ill Trovatore, with superstar soprano Angel Blue, which was being filmed to be to be broadcast on the orchestra’s digital stage rollout.

 Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra’s CEO Mathias Tarnopolsky co-hosted the event and detailed their re-imagined 20-21 OUR World Now Digital Stage programming, the orchestra last performance onstage was in March in an empty Verizon Hall. The last six months have been the longest period the full orchestra have gone without playing together on public stages in the orchestra’s 120 -year history.

Among the musical highlights-

 The historic film of Philadelphia Contralto Marian Anderson singing ‘My Country Tis of Thee’ at the Lincoln Memorial then cutting to Angel Blue singing the final verses on the Mann Center stage.  As a black American, Ms. Anderson was barred from singing the song in Constitution Hall in D.C., and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in and made sure she had a national audience making history, with 75,000 people hearing her from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Anderson famously changed the lyric from ‘Of Thee, I Sing’ to ‘Of Thee, WE Sing.’

Later, Angel Blue’s sang “Timor di me? … D’amor sull’ali rosee,” from Il Trovatore, in an exquisite performance, her interpretive artistry stellar. Blue soars with gold centered soprano, with remarkable passagio that is essential in bringing Verdi to full power.

 Valerie ‘Coleman’s ‘Seven-O’clock Shout’ a musical shout-out to America’s first-line workers composed in the wake of Coronavirus outbreak.   The musicians previewed piece in a special online YNS conducting the musicians remotely from his home in Canada and The Philadelphians in their separate homes performing the piece.   Has become the PO anthem for this moment.   “celebrates front line workers and the strength of human connection when we are apart.”  Tarnopolsky said in introducing the piece.

‘Nézet-Séguin followed it up with a lusty performance of Rossini’s ‘Thieving Magpie.’  Especially in the tempo modulations and essaying a depth of chamber sound, beyond its often vamped bombast.  Particularly His tempos a revelation especially during March passages that give way to a dervish orchestral gallop.  Outstanding percussion and driving voicings from the woodwinds- Patrick Williams (flute); Ricardo Morales (clarinet); Erica Peel (piccolo) and Peter Smith (oboe).

 Steve Martin performed remotely with his banjo, zoomed in as the orchestra was on the Mann stage for his composition – ‘Rare Bird Alert, which Martin originally composed for a Blue Grass Band, in a rousing barnburner for full orchestra.  Martin’s brilliant banjo licks and rowdy hoe-down lines by violins digging in with some fine country fiddling. Delightful pauses are heard from those rare bird’s effects, with the musicians doing some pretty impressive sound effects with their instruments. Kudos to the brilliant full orchestration by Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Tubist Carol Jantsch.

Lang Lang, who studied at Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and has been a frequent guest soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra was scheduled to be in town for the orchestra’s season-opening concert, but he was not permitted to fly out of China, so he performed Bach’s Goldberg Variation no. 30. Remotely from his home. A piece composed to commemorate a family reunion.  It is a quiet spare piece and particularly serene in an older Lang Lang whose youthful enthusiasm has matured to sterling and subtle artistry

 The virtual broadcast concluded with Nézet-Séguin’s meditative interpretation of Mozart’s Symphony no. 29, with masterful lead violin drive by concertmaster David Kim.

Philadelphia ,
Lewis Whittington writes about the performing and film arts for many publications. He is a renegade dance, theater and opera queen, a jazz-head and a civil activist.