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The Sound of "Surge"

Dalia Stasevska conducts the New York Philharmonic performing world premiere of Wang Lu's "Surge". Photo by Chris Lee

At Lincoln Center’s superb David Geffen Hall, on the evening of Saturday, January 21st, I had the great privilege to attend a terrific concert presented by the New York Philharmonic—continuing an unusually strong season—under the splendid direction of Ukrainian conductor Dalia Stasevska, who leads the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

The program began auspiciously with contemporary Chinese composer Wang Lu’s impressively orchestrated, compelling Surge, heard here in a fully realized account, and receiving its world premiere with these performances. Wang, in a program note in the score, wrote:

With alarming new environmental and political challenges emerging all the time, there is an overwhelming sense of unforeseen surges of the unknown that permeate our lives. Yet there is also an irresistible sense of collective urgency to build on more complex perspectives that, though sometimes tumultuous, would tolerate bold and unique innovations.

With these thoughts in mind,Surgefrequently features full orchestral tutti moments, transforming them into colossal textures, shifting and mixing tone colors while amplifying a single theme throughout. Momentous rhythmic motives insistently drive the inexorable waves of orchestral layers forward towards abrupt shifts.

Program annotator Rebecca Winzenried provides some useful background on the work:

Surge was commissioned by the League of American Orchestras Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Orchestral Commission Program, a consortium of 30 orchestras ranging from the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra to the Quad City Symphony in Iowa and the Portland Columbia Symphony in Oregon. Works by the six women composers engaged to contribute (who also include Anna Clyne, Sarah Gibson, Angel Lam, Gity Razaz, and Arlene Sierra) will each be performed by four consortium member orchestras, repeat performances that guarantee greater exposure than is often afforded to new works. Following the World Premiere by the NY Phil, Surge will be performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Des Moines Symphony, and at the Aspen Music Festival.

The beautiful and brilliant Georgian soloist, Lisa Batiashvili—who wore a fabulous, lacy, black gown—then entered the stage for a dazzling rendition of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s amazing Violin Concerto, which was inspired by Edouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole.The first movement is tuneful, bewitching and song-like but acquires a more dramatic character, although with incredibly stirring passages, reaching an exhilarating conclusion that elicited the audience’s applause. The ensuing slow movement is even more Russian in its melodies and it too is lyrical but with more melancholy inflections while the ebullient and dance-likefinaleis especially virtuosic, although with some subdued moments, but also closes thrillingly.

The second half of the evening was even stronger, consisting in a fully assured performance of Jean Sibelius’s magnificent Symphony No. 2. The suspenseful and turbulent initial movement is thoroughly Romantic with majestic climaxes. The evocative and mysterious slow movement is more restrained but ends forcefully and the third movement opens excitingly but its propulsion is arrested by quieter passages. The complex and moodyfinalebuilds to an exalting conclusion. The musicians received an enthusiastic ovation.

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