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Philadelphia Orchestra Delights at Carnegie Hall

Philadelphia Orchestra photo by Jennifer Taylor

A wonderful season of orchestral music at Carnegie Hall continued thrillingly with the appearance—on the evening of Tuesday, April 10th—of the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra under the brilliant direction of the exuberant Yannick Nézet-Séguin. (These artists gave a superb performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s outstanding Symphony No. 2 here last month.)
The program opened magnificently with a stunning realization of the gorgeous Chichester Psalms, from 1965, of Leonard Bernstein, in celebration of the centennial of the birth of that remarkable composer, conductor, pianist and educator. (His “Age of Anxiety” Symphony was presented by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the same auditorium on the following night.) This, I think, is probably the loveliest of his “serious” works, by which designation I mean to exclude his fabulous scores for Fancy Free, Candide and West Side Story. The piece is a setting of the original Hebrew texts of several psalms—including the beloved twenty-third, which is the basis for the most beautiful section of this too rarely heard composition, here sung in heavenly fashion by the terrific boy soprano, Dante Michael DiMaio. (Bernstein has also set a Hebrew text in his esteemed “Kaddish” Symphony written in the same decade.) The excellent Westminster Symphonic Choir directed by Joe Miller provided exquisite assistance.
The conductor then introduced the second work of the concert, the New York premiere of a new “City Symphony”—the seventh in a series—the enjoyable Philadelphia Voices commissioned by this ensemble, and written by the contemporary Tod Machover, who was present for the performance. It is an eclectic piece that received its world premiere in Philadelphia last week and features, among other unusual elements, a few minutes in the rock music idiom, recorded spoken words, and a chorus—here again the Symphonic Choir, which sang some inspired passages, especially in the exalting finale.
The evening reached its apotheosis, however, in the second half of the evening, which was devoted to magisterial rendition of the astonishing Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, heard here in the supreme orchestration—one of the finest in the classical literature—of Maurice Ravel, after Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s revision of the original piano score. It was perfectly apposite that the audience delivered an ardent ovation. What more need be said? The return to New York of these marvelous musicians is eagerly awaited.

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