In a Last-Minute Podium Substitution, Kensho Watanabe Emerges a Star

12/04/2017

Beethoven, Bates, Mozart, Liszt: Mason Bates (electronics), Daniil Trifonov (piano), Philadelphia Orchestra / Kensho Watanabe (conductor), Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 8.4.2017. (BJ)

Beethoven – Overture and Finale from Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op.43
BatesAlternative Energy
Mozart – Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat major, K.271
LisztPrometheus, Symphonic Poem No.5

All the buzz in advance had centered on the Philadelphia Orchestra premiere of a supposedly exploratory work by Mason Bates, and on the prospect of hearing a Mozart concerto with one of today’s most spectacularly rising young pianists, Daniil Trifonov, as soloist.

Well, man proposes, but bugs dispose. Having learned just three hours before concert time that, with music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin felled by a virus, he was going to have to take over on the podium, Kensho Watanabe ended up as practically the star of the show.

The Philadelphia Orchestra must count itself fortunate in the possession of this young Japanese-American Curtis graduate as its assistant conductor. Now serving his first season in that post, Watanabe covered himself with glory, and as it turned out, the Beethoven and Liszt segments of the program made the strongest impression. Led with a combination of authority, charisma, and technical aplomb rarely found in a young conductor, the main Allegro of Beethoven’s Prometheus overture zipped along with crisply zestful clarity of articulation, and Liszt’s treatment of the same subject—no less powerful in expression—was revealed as one of that composer’s most firmly and economically constructed symphonic poems.

Much has been said and written to characterize Philadelphia-born Mason Bates, composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2010 to 2015 and now at Washington’s Kennedy Center, as the exponent of a cutting-edge blend of acoustic and electronic sounds. His six-year-old Alternative Energy is indeed a skillful essay in that genre. But it is scarcely more forward-looking than the kind of thing I was hearing in New York’s Town Hall fully 50 years ago, under the artistic leadership, if memory serves correctly, of Matthew Raimondi, the distinguished violinist and founder of the Composers Quartet.

In those days, we in the audience always felt a bit embarrassed to find ourselves applauding a bank of machines along with the humans on stage. In Bates’s work, technological advances have yielded a less cluttered look to the proceedings. But I found many of the incursions of electronic sound suggestive of nothing so much as fairly inelegant burps, and I was not bowled over by their admittedly smooth interweaving with the orchestral part.

What I had been looking forward to with the keenest anticipation for the evening was my first encounter with the 26-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, already a Philadelphia favorite after his subscription debut here two years ago. In the event, his playing of the solo part in one of Mozart’s most challenging concertos, impeccably correct though it was, left me a tad disappointed. The voluminous finale was carried off with unusual firmness of line and rhythm, but in the exploratory first movement and the deeply dramatic central Andantino, Trifonov seemed content merely to play the notes without contributing much in the way of personal insight into their meaning as music. I look forward to hearing him again in repertoire for which he may feel more vividly sympathetic.

Bernard Jacobson

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! This October Carlos Acosta Returns to London to Celebrate Thirty Years in Dance __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018/19 Birmingham Classical Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The King and I at the London Palladium and at Cinemas Near You __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! The Roman River Music Festival Returns This September __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! How Our Grandparents Decided How We Should Listen to Music __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month