The Seattle Symphony launched its new season this past weekend. This also marks Music Director’s Ludovic Morlot’s fourth season in that position, and the initial enthusiasm over his appointment has not waned. The electricity still flows from the audience and the orchestra still sounds as bright and crisp as a Seattle spring morning. Most importantly, though, is that the audience which is so electrified is now skewing younger and younger. Maestro is hitting all right notes, in more ways than one, and is packing Benaroya Hall.
Handsome Half and I missed his opening night gala but we did catch their first concert of the season, featuring (also) the first of their Antonin Dvorak tribute, his Symphony No. 7 in d minor, opus 70.
But first, they performed the Prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, a piece as heavy and as complex as everything that Wagner’s done. But the orchestra was bright and negotiated the interplay smoothly. The French horns, especially, were spot-on. I always listen for them, because they are among the most difficult to play. Even the best players can begin passages with cracked or broken notes; that night I didn’t hear one.
The brightest notes of the evening was The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. Tchaikovsky did, of course, write more piano pieces, but his first is his most famous, and ranks among the best, and most famous, ever written.
To scale this musical mountain, Morlot brought in a 23-year-old whippersnapper named Daniil Trifonov. This prodigy has already played the world’s major concert halls and appeared with 19 leading orchestras. His career took off after he won First Prize in both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein competitions at age 20.
But young Trifonov proved himself up to the challenge. He attacked the opening chords with confidence, and didn’t stop there. The breath-taking delicacy of the middle movement was trod lightly. He leaned away from the keys as he pounced with accuracy, or hunched over them, intent on stroking out the lightest sounds. He was accurate, precise, and brought an emotional freshness to his interpretation, not an easy task for a piece as well-known as this.
Of course, he received a much-deserved ovation, and a second curtain call.
The second half was taken up with the Antonin Dvorak 7th. This piece is considered his masterpiece, and one of the greatest symphonies of the Romantic period. It owes a lot to Dvorak’s friend and mentor, Johannes Brahms, but still charts its own territory. Along with Tchaikovsky, Dvorak is also one of the greatest composers to bring folk tunes into the classical idiom (which means that George Gershwin owes much to both of them).
But, while exuberant overall, this piece began with a dark undertone, with deep theme from the low registers of the cellos. The symphony was up to its task here, again, too, and rode Dvorak’s many moods and tempos with ease.
Alas, I was unable to take notes; apparently the jacket I wore was the only one I owned in which did not leave a pen in its pocket. I did not notice any gaffes, and the orchestra sounded very much like a polished, world-class orchestra, and the musicianship was polished and professional. Next time, I will plan better.
Morlot has done Seattle proud, and his presence is the brightest one in Seattle’s art scene. Considering the caliber of the local arts scene, that’s saying quite a lot.