Sommerville spellbinding as Philharmonic guest conductor

Simone Porter
Providence Journal

On paper, James Sommerville, the first in a string of guest conductors leading the Rhode Island Philharmonic this season, doesn’t seem all that impressive — he left his post as the conductor of a Canadian orchestra three years ago and was first horn for the Boston Symphony.  

But on the podium last night at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, he was the real deal. I can’t remember another conductor who got so much from this orchestra, who was so expressive and demonstrated such amazing emotional range.
That was followed by the popular Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Simone Porter. And wouldn’t you know that Sommerville and the soloist turned this tired warhorse into something fresh. Too often performances of the Tchaikovsky are all show. But last night it was all about the music, all about elegance, grace and heart.Even in the fiery finale, she found moments of reflection. The Tchaikovsky was so astonishing, the audience couldn’t help but respond with a thundering ovation at the end of the first movement. Sommerville kept his eye on Porter throughout the performance, watching her every move, resulting in an amazing rapport where entrances and transitions were seamless.

Porter, who’s just 20, gave us all a lesson in violin playing during the big cadenza in the first movement, with whisper-soft harmonics that were right on the money. And her reflective slow movement was spellbinding.But the best was yet to come, as Sommerville closed out the evening with heart-rending performance of Sibelius’ dark and brooding Second Symphony. Again, this is where he showed his uncanny emotional range, where he brought the orchestra to heights I can’t recall.  

It was a stunning performance that left this listener drained, but smiling. Read the rest of the review here