United States Various: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Dalia Stasevska (conductor). Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 3.3.2022. (ZC)
Adolphus Hailstork – Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed: In memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bartók – Piano Concerto No.2
Dvořák – Symphony No.9 in E minor ‘From the New World’
The most recent performance by the Seattle Symphony began the way many have in the week since Russia invaded Ukraine: with a statement of solidarity from the podium along with a performance of the Ukrainian national anthem. In Seattle, this new routine was more visceral because of the perspective brought by guest conductor Dalia Stasevska. Born in Ukraine and now a Finnish citizen, she knows the spirit of her homeland, as well as the existential threat that Russia poses to the region.
Stasevska is one of the conductors retained at the last minute to plug the holes in the season created by the abrupt resignation of Music Director Thomas Dausgaard in January. At 37, she has hit her stride as chief conductor for the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Stasevska kept the original program, which included Hailstork’s Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed: In memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr., Bartók’s second piano concerto with soloist Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Dvořák’s famous New World Symphony.
One of the best qualities brought by Stasevska to the performance was her ability to make phrases flow naturally, and she demonstrated this best in the Dvořák. The last time I heard the work performed by the Seattle Symphony, there was an overemphasis on texture, which suppressed the piece’s natural momentum. Under Stasevska’s baton, the second movement’s Largo was presented with feeling, the work’s many climaxes exploded with exuberant passion and its many solos were spotlighted without interrupting the direction of the performance. When there were problems – cracking brass and a few entrance snafus – they were small and indicative of the orchestra’s willingness to go all out for a young and talented conductor. Hailstork’s admirable work also benefited from Stasevska’s approach. This unfamiliar piece came across as unfussy and a sober reminder of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy – as leader, icon and human being.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s presence at the piano for Bartók’s concerto was guaranteed to be electric. His specialty is modern keyboard music, and he was a perfect advocate for Bartók’s craggy harmonies and spiky rhythms. Aimard pounced on the keyboard, going full throttle for much of the work. The first movement pits the orchestra’s brass, winds and percussion against the piano and, at times, Aimard pushed too hard, enveloping the orchestra behind him. But in the second and third movements, the orchestra and soloist found a better balance. There, Aimard and Stasevska forged a happy medium between fury and mystery.
Stasevska made a splendid debut with the Seattle Symphony: the concert showcased her abilities with three very different works. That she led a performance pulsing with life despite the grim news of war in her birth country was even more impressive. On this evidence alone, I hope she is invited back for future performances – perhaps even one day as music director.