The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the best classical music ensembles performing in America today. Maestro Charles Dutoit is one of a handful of the best of the best conductors in the world. And Yo-Yo Ma is now ensconced on the cello throne vacated by the greatest masters of the instrument that ever lived: Mstislav Rostropovich and Pablo Casals.
Put these three elements together, and you have the classical equivalent of a superstar rock band featuring the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band and Eric Clapton all on the same stage at the same time.
On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s opening night with Yo-Yo Ma at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s 2010 Summer Concert Series was nothing short of spectacular.
Amid thunderous applause, Maestro Dutoit stepped out onto the stage, raised his baton and launched the evening with a spirited version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” a fitting tribute to the Swiss-born conductor’s adopted country.
Next up, a passionate and dynamic version of Strauss’ “Don Juan, Op. 20” filled the amphitheater with a superb mix of grace and subtlety.
However, it was “Cello Concerto in E minor, Op 85” that brought the house down in a blaze of glory. Star cellist Ma effortlessly traversed the musical landscape of Elgar’s four movements with the mastery of a musician both possessed by the piece and so very much in the moment. Notes flew, danced, cried and sang with every nuanced touch of Ma’s bow on the strings.
The second half of the program was all about Stravinsky’s famed “The Rite of Spring.” The two-part masterpiece – with all of its intricate inner-detail – was played magnificently by the orchestra. It sounded as if everyone there on the stage was performing it for the first time. The exotic beauty and the freshness of the orchestra’s collective interpretation had to be heard to be believed.
Throughout the night, Dutoit’s blistering direction was more reminiscent of a boxer in the ring – all bobbing and weaving – than that of the stereotypical conductor simply waving their hands and baton. His entire body was in constant motion, sending precise signals to the various sections of the orchestra. Many an athlete would have been worn out imitating his physical gyrations, but it appeared that Dutoit, taking his applause with an enigmatic smile, didn’t even break into a sweat on this humid night.
Dutoit has been the artistic director and principal conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer festival at SPAC for 21 years. This is his final season at the helm of this fabulous orchestra, so catch him now while you can.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Joseph Dalton’s review in The Times Union
An excerpt from Geraldine Freedman’s review in The Daily Gazette: The final movement [of Elgar’s Cello Concerto] was very Schumannesque with a soulful opening cadenza that led to a fresh, strongly pulsed section. The piece was interesting for its unpredictable lines and its well crafted cello part, which was more a partner with the orchestra than a solo. Dutoit, ever the sympathetic partner, was particularly astute with an orchestra that was as precise as it was supportive.”