Yesterday, I had two personal premieres:
I heard the Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite for the first time live (and probably for the first time conciously, I have it on a Günter Wand album but never paid much attention).
And, more importantly, I was at my first live concert with a female conductor. This is a pretty sad fact given that we’re in the year 2017 and I attend classical concerts on a regular basis. But let’s look at the odds: right now there are only three female conductors I’d be able to spontaneously come up with: Simone Young in Hamburg, Marin Alsop, and closer to my heart, Emmanuelle Haïm. Can you come up with any other names? Wikipedia gives you a slightly (but really only slightly) longer lists with other names I’ve never heard of.
I actually had heard the name of Alondra de la Parra once before, on the radio. But that was all I knew about this young Mexican conductor (who was born in NYC).
So I was very curious to hear her, given that the Tonhalle Orchester had given her the opportunity of three consecutive concerts.
A little parenthesis on the Tonhalle-Orchester: The only recently appointed current conductor, Lionel Bringuier, will soon be history. I’ve only heard him once with the Tonhalle, but really wasn’t convinced, so I’m not very sad about the change.
David Zinman did great things with the orchestra previously (even though it is still a bit short of being on par with the really big guys), and so I’m very much looking forward to whoever will be replacing him. Paavo Järvi has been mentioned, and given my affection for him, I’d be applauding.
But if de la Parra get’s 3 evenings, I’m just wondering, could she also be in the mix?
Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite
Well, this one will be quite quick, as I simply don’t have any reference to judge the performance from. All I can say is I was surprised I really liked the piece. I have a very difficult relationship with Stravinsky, I hate Le Sacre, I can listen to Petrouchka about once every 5 years, preferable in the piano version.
It’s generally just not my cup of tea. But this piece warrants further study.
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 – Jan Lisiecki
Beyond Mrs de la Palla, Jan Lisiecki was the other motivation for me (plus being near Zurich anyhow that particular day) to go to see this concert.
He got very good reviews for his Chopin and Mozart, and so I was very curious to see this very young artist (22 years old) from Canada live. The first thing that’s a bit shocking is that he looks even younger than that. He wouldn’t be out of place in any US highschool movie.
Now, how did the two young stars play together? Well, let’s just say it was a really interesting experience. De la Parra lead the Tonhalle with a lot of energy, but overall the playing sounded a tiny bit heavy (maybe I’m also just too much used to historically informed performance these days). On top of that, Lisiecki had a rather firm grip on the Steinway.
Therefore, this well-known concert, which was written by the 21 year old Mozart, sounded a lot like Beethoven, and not even like his first two concertos, which still live the spirit of Mozart, but in parts this could have even been the 4th concerto.
And the 2nd movement got even more interesting, it sounded really much more like a Chopin concerto. Nothing wrong with all this, and it was a very pleasing experience, it is just different from what I’m recently used to hear.
Appropriately enough, Lisiecki gave us a Chopin encore, op. 48 no. 1, if my memory serves me well. This really was quite spectacular. Lisiecki gave it so much energy, especially in the second half, that I was occasionally thinking of being in the Grande Polonaise Brilliante. In any case, should you listen to this performance late at night (which the title Nocturne kind of indicates), you’d be wide awake by all the sheer brilliance. Very enjoyable.
The true highlight came after the break though.
I love the Eroica. Actually, it is a mistake that I didn’t mention it in my 25 Essential Classical Albums (a mistake I’ll soon rectify by enlarging the list to 50). But it’s been ages since I last heard it live somewhere.
I was really hoping from some Latin power (mentally I was probably thinking of de la Parra as the female equivalent of Rodrigo, the slightly crazy Mexican conductor in Amazon’s TV series Mozart in the Jungle).
But I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Boy, how positively surprised I ended up being. I spend the entire Eroica on the edge of my seat by the sheer energy she created. The poor musicians of the Tonhalle Orchester were clearly stretched to their limits, but they were following her with all the energy and passion they got. Wow!
In summary, as much as I’d like to see Paavo Järvi in Zürich, should the Tonhalle Orchester be daring and go for this amazing talent, I’d be all for it!
P.S. After the concert I read the review by the venerable Neue Zürcher Zeitung of the same concert the previous day, and they shared my enthousiasm.