RPO performs 'Tchaikovsky 5'

03.23.18
Ward Stare
Rochester City Newspaper

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra lately seemed to be reverting back to the conservatism that had dominated its programming before Music Director Ward Stare's arrival. Yesterday at Kodak Hall, however, Stare and the RPO presented its boldest concert in recent memory.

The evening began with Franz Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 22. Stare took a brisk, stately pace that at first felt odd; a slower, more contemplative tempo evoking "The Philosopher" -- nicknamed for the symphony's ponderous beginning -- seemed like it might have been more suitable. If Stare's approach to the opening movement was initially mildly bewildering, it made much more sense upon the arrival of the second movement. The movement was characterized by an effervescence and rhythmic buoyancy that could be seen as well as heard: Stare literally hopped about on the podium in harmony with the orchestra. All in all, an air of refinement permeated "The Philosopher," from the elegant phrasing to the profound sense of unity among the musicians.

The concert took a sharp turn stylistically, however, with contemporary American composer Allen Shawn's Oboe Concerto, an RPO-commissioned work making its world premiere. Shawn is a post-serialist of sorts. His angular, sometimes jagged melodies recalled the dissonance of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, even while pushing past it toward a kind of cinematic Romanticism. The music was emotionally vague, ominous even, as a shroud of harmonic fog covered the sonic landscape.

Additionally, the composition enabled oboe soloist Erik Behr -- the musician to whom Shawn dedicated the piece -- to stretch his playing chops, digging into the extremes of the instrument's range and relishing the mercurial melodies that were unpredictable and almost playful. Though the music was undeniably heady, Shawn supplied Behr with an abundance of riveting, dance-like phrases that kept things accessible for the audience.

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As it had been throughout the concert, the chemistry between Stare and the orchestra felt easy and intuitive. The fullness of sound gave the concert and element of majesty that had not been present in the works on the bill. More subtly, it was the orchestra's mastery of dynamics that truly made things click and caused Tchaikovsky's phrases to pulse with life.

An emphatically strong concert performance, here's hoping that Stare will note the spark and more consistently lead the orchestra in challenging programs that embrace the new in the coming years.
 
Read the rest of the review here