Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Bold Sounds of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra

One afternoon a few years ago, I performed on the David Letterman show. After finishing, I hopped in a cab downtown, and an hour later was performing with Meredith Monk. It was the ultimate juxtaposition of pop culture entertainment and high brow art, and it was one of the coolest, most surreal days of my life. Today was another one of those days:

Earlier this afternoon, I was screaming my head off at Aggie Stadium during the last 30 seconds of the UC Davis vs. San Diego football game (Aggies won). A few hours later, a few blocks away, I was part of a demographically opposite, though no less enthusiastic crowd, as I joined the Mondavi Center audience in giving the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra a much deserved standing ovation.

Under the direction of conductor Nikolai Alexeev, the St. Petersburg Orchestra began the all-Prokofiev evening with excerpts from the Ballet Suite, Romeo & Juliet. From the robust strokes of "Montagues and Capulets" to climactic anguish of "Romeo at Juliet's Grave" to the impressive finger pyrotechnics of the strings in "Death of Tybalt", the orchestra's sound was superb and textured. I can understand why the Bolshoi Ballet (who commissioned the score after the Kirov backed out) declared it impossible to dance to - Prokofiev's structure is much more unpredictable and complex than the rounder, more accessible ballet music from composers like Tchaikovsky.

After intermission, Alexeev led the orchestra in Prokofiev's slightly less welcoming Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100. The four movements (Andante, Allegro marcato, Adagio, Allegro giocoso) were entrancing as they unfolded, and the bold fortissimo flourish at the end provided an exhilarating punctuation to the evening.

The audience's enthusiasm was rewarded with a pre-holiday treat: an encore of "The Russian Dance" from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite - an energetic fanfare that sent me home dancing.

1 comment:

John Forell said...

I have to say that this was one of the most impressive orchestral concerts I have ever been to. I was not familiar with the repertoire beforehand, but nonetheless I left awed.
My only complaint: It's a shame that the student ticket prices are so high. I really can't afford to come to all the incredible performances when tickets are forty bucks a pop.