Portland Symphony Orchestra
May 16, 2017
by Christopher Hyde
There’s an adage that used to appear regularly on office walls, to the effect that “Youth and skill are no match for old age and treachery.”
Sometimes youth and skill do win out, however, an example being last night’s concert of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marcelo Lehninger, 31, and featuring violinist Alexi Kenney, 23.
It’s too bad that Lehninger is already spoken for (by the Grand Rapids Symphony) or the PSO’s search for a music director would be over. He elicited the best performances from individuals, and the orchestra as a whole, of any conductor I have heard in recent years. while Kenney’s performance of that old chestnut, the Bruch Concerto No. 1 in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra (Op. 26) made it sound better than it is.
Kenny has superb technique, but even more important a melodic gift that was perfectly suited to the Bruch. His dynamics have a complete range, but are understated, a characteristic that Lehninger’s conducting compensated for perfectly.
The concerto was so well played that it moved the capacity audience to a loud and long-lasting standing ovation…unfortunately, since that led to a solo encore. No,no, no..
You have just created the ideal mood intended by a great composer and you have to spoil it with a gnarly etude (Piazzola Tango Etude No. 3) that can’t compare musically and indicates only that the artist is showing off? For shame. This new post-concerto custom needs a holly stake driven through its heart.
The program began with a light hearted romp through Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” marred only by a pedantic program note that insisted on calling the composer “Amadè.” I’m sorry if Wolfgang never used the name Amadeus, but that’s what he will be called, now and forever, amen.
A primary characteristic of youth made the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Opus 74, an experience to remember: daring.
At the very beginning, Lehninger called out individual solo voices in a way I have never heard before, then combined them into a musical shape like dots in a pointillist painting. The fermatas were long, some of the sounds almost inaudible, but always portentous.
The drums in the opening movement were the most powerful since the French Revolution, and the march a terrifying epitome of fascism. Lehninger also left no doubt that the final movement, which just peters out, is a suicide note.
The Sixth is both tragic and pathetic, but the performance Tuesday night was also hopeful, showing that no matter how familiar a work is, it can always be heard and performed in new, but nevertheless effective, ways by coming generations.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at email@example.com.