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Filling In and Filling Out a Fabulous Program

December 14, 2006 By:
Cantor David F. Tilman, JE Feature
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Ricardo Muti's return to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra was much anticipated after his eventful -- some would say controversial -- tenure at its helm in the 1990s.

But it wasn't to be. At the beginning of the week of Muti's subscription series, management announced that he would not be conducting because of a severe case of flu. With short notice, Neeme Jarvi -- 69-year-old chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest in the Hague, as well as music director of the New Jersey Symphony and a host of other positions, including in Detroit -- filled in for him.

And what an excellent choice he was, both for the orchestra's musicians and for the subscribers in Verizon Hall on the Saturday evening of my visit. Maestro Jarvi modified Muti's program, replacing the scheduled Paul Hindemith's "Nobilissima Visione" with the same composer's "Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber." The two works by Franz Schubert -- "Overture to Rosamunde" and "Symphony No. 4" -- and "Death and Transfiguration" by Richard Strauss remained on the music stands.

Based on his associations with the New Jersey and Detroit symphonies, Jarvi is clearly comfortable with the traditional American seating plan for the musicians, positioning the first and second violin sections to his left, and relocating the cellos to the far right, enabling the double basses, standing along the near-right side of the orchestra, and the cellos to play rich and clearly articulated bass lines. I have long felt that the traditional American plan is the best seating arrangement for our orchestra, highlighting the magnificent string ensemble playing, as well as enabling the bass lines to be both rich and tight throughout Verizon Hall.

Jarvi's stick technique is clear, formed according to traditional conducting patterns, and just a trifle understated. He was in complete rhythmic command, while encouraging musical ideas to grow within all the orchestral sections, as the works demanded.

No Worries, Be Happy!
From the outset, it was readily apparent that the musicians were glad to be playing under Jarvi's direction; their smiles were almost contagious.

The "Overture to Rosamunde" -- performed by a downsized ensemble -- was filled with sparkling melodic moments, played with an especially light touch. Schubert's "Symphony No. 4" was also played with great joy and energy. The second movement, described as andante/moderately slow, never displayed any wavering of motion despite its slow tempo. Jarvi also had great fun with the violin/clarinet dialogue in the fourth movement.

"Death and Transfiguration" by Strauss is an excellent representative of an "orchestral tone poem," a compositional genre invented by Liszt. According to the composer's own words, the music depicts the agony of a dying and ill man contemplating the joys and tragedies of his life, as he confronts his final days.

The full complement of orchestral players presented an outstanding reading of this compelling piece, which held the attention of the entire audience. Jarvi guided the orchestra through thick sections of orchestral writing, effectively capturing the "tension/resolution" conflicts inherent in the score.

When there is exciting and joyous interaction between the music director and the orchestra, the music-making process is thrilling. Jarvi is probably too old to be considered an active candidate for the music directorship of the Philadelphians. But this concert was a model of the results that can be obtained when true communication and mutual respect are in evidence on the Verizon Hall stage.


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