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Romeo & Juliet with The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

Lahav Shani conducts Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Photo by Fadi Kheir

At Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium, on the night of Saturday, March 9th, I had the incomparable pleasure of attending a magnificent concert presented by the outstanding musicians of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, brilliantly led by its Chief Conductor, Lahav Shani.
The evening began marvelously with a superb reading of Arvo Pärt’s stunning, meditative Swansong, a visionary work that concludes quietly. In an excellent program note, Jack Sullivan provides some useful background about it:
Composed in 2013, it was the result of a commission of the Mozart Week Festival in Salzburg—where Pärt was the festival composer in 2014—and was premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Marc Minkowski. It is an orchestral version of Littlemore Tractus from 2000, which was composed for choir and organ to celebrate the 200th anniversary of cardinal John Henry Newman’s birth. That work is based on a fragment of Newman’s sermon “Wisdom and Innocence,” which contains a prayer for “a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.”
The fabulous soloist, Daniil Trifonov, then entered the stage for a sterling performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s wonderful 1777 Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271, the “Jeunehomme.” The initial, appropriately cheerful and energetic Allegro movement has some slower, dance-like sections and features some sparkling piano writing. The Andantino that follows—a characteristically beautiful slow movement with an inward orientation—is seemingly almost religious in inspiration and evocative of the Baroque style at times—with some majestic passages—while the finale, a Rondo marked Presto, is propulsive and playful but contains a contrastingly reflective, almost melancholy, minuet. Enthusiastic applause was rewarded with an amazing encore played by the pianist: the Bill Evans arrangement of the classic song of 1952, "When I Fall in Love,” composed by Victor Young with lyrics by Edward Heyman, and famously recorded by Nat King Cole among many others.
Truly awesome, however, was the second half of the event, consisting of a stupendous realization of selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s glorious score for the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, some of the greatest music ever written. The enthralling march, “Montagues and Capulets” that opened the set has a lovely central interlude. “Juliet as a Young Girl,” the next selection, is effervescent and the ensuing “A Scene” is jocular. The ebullient “Dance” preceded the rhythmic “Masks” and the romantic “Balcony Scene.” After this was the exciting and dramatic “Death of Tybalt,” which also has comic elements. The charming “Dance of the Maids from the Antilles” is succeeded by the mesmerizing “Romeo and Juliet Before Parting” with its ominous inflections. The concluding “Romeo at Juliet’s Grave” is simply astounding. An ardent ovation elicited another delightful encore: the same composer’s March, Op. 99.

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