Chinese pianist Lang Lang gives orchestra a star turn
Yannick Nézet-S éguin, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director designate, captured the hearts of the huge crowd Wednesday night in a memorable evening of music making that included the formidable talents of Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
Nézet-S éguin, who was making his Saratoga Performing Arts Center debut, doesn’t stand on ceremony. Rather, he seems almost like one of the guys up there on the stage with a relaxed and comfortable air. But as concertmaster David Kim told the audience prior to the performance, every concert with him on the podium was meaningful and a treat.
The concert began with four Brahms Hungarian Dances (#18 through #21) that Dvorak had orchestrated from the original four-hand piano pieces. The dances are light and swirling with strong gypsy fl avors. Nézet-Séguin pushed and pulled at the tempos to create a spontaneous feel. Strong dynamic contrasts and vivacious speeds added to the flaver.
A Lang Lang appearance, however, puts a concert into another realm. Only 29, his ubiquitous presence on the world’s stages hasn’t dimmed his star appeal. His playing of Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major was worth every dime of admission. He dazzled with his clean brilliant technique. He showed he was also a poet as he sung the lovely melodies with much sensitivity and used various touches from caressing the keys to a snappy brusqueness in the octave runs. Always the showman, his gestures were often charming and delightful as well as entertaining.
There’s a playfulness about his approach beyond the style and obvious technical mastery that makes it seem as if he were playing with the music. Would another kind of sound work here? How about hitting the key just so, or maybe holding that note a little longer.
That kind of thoughtfulness was most apparent in his encore. After the crowd went crazy with loud applause, whistles and cheers, Lang Lang played one of Chopin’s waltzes. The music might have been familiar to many, but Lang Lang added flavors and colors from a hint of a nuance to a dynamic change to a slight rubato that brought the waltz to life in a fresh and very musical way. Interestingly, he used little pedal.
The crowd would have liked more, but alas, a multitude of fans was waiting at the back deck for autographs.
While Nézet-S éguin and the orchestra had given Lang Lang marvelous and balanced support, the crowd really got to hear why Kim called every concert a treat when the opening bars of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 began. They were like sighs.
Conducting without a score, Nézet-S éguin explored the depths of the music to create a complex tapestry filled with rich wine and gold threads. His Brahms was not a heavy, ponderous excursion, but a light, lilting, expansive exploration with seamless woodwinds — principal flutist Jeff Khaner’s solo in the last movement was sustained and soaring, silken strings and resolute brass. Even with the great sweeps of sound, organ like chords in the brass and big dynamics, Nézet-Séguin balanced it with delicate froth or a festive brilliance.
Tonight, he’ll show off his operatic chops with soprano Angela Meade and tenor Bryan Hymel.