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A Surprising Turnage of Events in a Russian World

Friday, October 11, 2013


Kristie Su
A visit to the Grote Zaal of de Doelen on this night surprised me
greatly. I knew that Prokofievs first, a world premiere of a piano
concerto by Mark-Anthony Turnage, and Stravinskys Firebird was going
to be performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, under the
direction of Yannick Nezet-Seguin. As the crowd settled in, and the
orchestra came on stage, and the sound of the practicing violins drifted
from the stage, I realized that Prokofievs first symphonythe Classical
would be up first.
I thought back to the last few times I had heard this symphony
Codarts Symphony Orchestra, the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, a
recording from Berlin Philharmonic. Would this be comparable? The last
time I heard it live was here in de Doelen, in the exact same seat, but
with different musicians, and under the baton of none other than
Gergiev himself. However, his orchestra had planned to play
Prokofievs fifth symphony, but when the maestro came to stage, out
flowed the first symphony, sounding quite rusty. Tonight, Yannick
bounced on stage, a smile across his already-sweaty face, and opened
the score, waving a long baton, and with no surprise from the
audience, out poured the beautiful themes of Prokofievs Classical
symphony. With Yannicks energetic approach and his athletic ability,
he rounded up the musicians and pulled them on a spectacular journey
through a short, but fascinating series of movements. Thunderous
applause followed as the maestro bounced up and down the steps of
the stage, pointing out the wind players and the brass section.
After the applause died down, and Yannick went backstage, I expected
a soloist, perhaps a Russian composer as well. As the orchestra
members stood up to be reseated, I realized that the soloist would be a
pianist. The audience quieted and out came Marc-Andre Hamelin, the
soloist, with a piano score in his hand. As the music began, I heard all
sorts of jazzy inserts and sassy piano riffs, Hamelins hands dancing up
and down the keyboard, fitting Hamelins energy perfectly. His almostsarcastic playing style left little to be wished for as his rendition of
Mark-Anthony Turnages Piano Concerto, with complicated texture and
swinging rhythms, flew through his fingers and into the audience.
Though Turnages music was a bit reminiscent of a smooth jazz
concert, and sometimes was a bit slow-developing, but the air that
Hamelin brought about it was wonderful. After the normal Rotterdam
standing ovation for Hamelin, he sat back down and played an encore,
Chopins Minute Waltz, but of course, what is an encore if he doesnt

put his personal stamp on it? On the last return of the first theme,
during the few repeated bars leading to the theme, he began playing in
second intervals, hitting seemingly random keys in the left hand,
drawing amused chatting from the audience. Halfway through, he
throws in a recognizable theme (in the correct key!), much to the
publics delight, and people burst out in laughter as he draws the
encore to a close with a big cadence with no wrong notes. The hall
breaks into cheers and yells of bravo! as Hamelin jogs off stage.
After the intermission, the all-too-familiar Firebird from Stravinsky is
played. All of the public remembers the last time it was performed, and
seeing the horn players are the same as last time, everyone holds their
breath as the first horn player begins his solo. The concentration on his
face is apparent as he plays the last few notes of the passage, until the
very last moment of the last note, without any cracks in the sound. The
audience breathes a breath of relief, looking around with smiles and
nodding. Apart from this moment, and the extremely catchy triple-forte
last theme that leaves everyone humming, whistling, and singing in
distress for weeks, this rendition of the Firebird was not particularly
spectacular. Yannicks energy is always a plus in the concert hall, but it
was not played with the gusto that Ive seen from the Rotterdam
Philharmonic in the past.