Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Orozco-Estrada + Hadelich + Oregon Symphony = A+++ performance

Andres Orozco Estrada and Augustin Hadelich
Guest Conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada teamed up with the Oregon Symphony to turn in one of the best concerts that I’ve ever heard at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The performance that took place on Monday evening (October 14) featured Debussy’s “Petite suite,” Schubert’s 9th Symphony, and Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, which was played to perfection by guest artist Augustin Hadelich. This concert, which was also presented on Sunday afternoon, marked the debuts of Orozco-Estrada and Hadelich with the Oregon Symphony, and hopefully we will get to hear them again with the orchestra soon.

Hadelich, only 29 years old, played Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto impeccably and in an understated way that communicated the musical qualities of the piece. This can be a daunting task, because the piece has a lot of high, descending lines that can jolt the ears. Hadelich found a way to communicate the conversational nature of the piece. With the orchestra, he created a polka-esque, circus-like atmosphere in the first movement, a soul searching mood in the second, a strident tone in the third, and a blitz in the fourth. The orchestra didn’t miss a beat in its support role, with superb attacks and punctuation points throughout the piece. The piece was heartily appreciated by the audience, and Hadelich responded with an encore, the Paganini’s “Caprice No. 24,” which he again played impeccably – including the wicked double stops, high-wire glissandos, stratospheric notes, and pizzicatos for both hands. It was unbelievable and awesome.

Orozco-Estrada, age 34, is the conductor-designate of the Houston Symphony. He has been the music director of the Tonkünstler Orchestra Niederösterreich, which is the same orchestra that the Oregon Symphony’s music director Carlos Kalmar once led.

Like many other pieces, the big problem with Schubert’s 9th is that it can start to sag, especially after the orchestra does a repeat which means going over a theme a second time. But the great thing about Orozco-Estrada was that he enticed the musicians to find new nuances in each phrase so that the music remained fresh. The entire piece had plenty of verve and a direction that kept pointing ahead. Most of us who regularly attend Oregon Symphony concerts are used to the dance-like movements of Kalmar on the podium. But Orozco-Estrada took that even further with bendy, balletic movements, and it all worked terrifically, because he elicited stellar playing from the orchestra. The beautiful and strong lines from the strings in the first movement seemed individually crafted as if each section was making a personal statement. Terrific playing by principal oboist Martin Hebert and principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao at the opening of the second movement followed by superb orchestral sforzandos and excellent dynamic contrasts took the music to a higher level. Highlights of the third movement included the aggressive violins and the beautiful main theme that glided along as smoothly as a professional ice skater. Overall, the music seemed to flow through Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra in a way that was genuine and mesmerizing.

In much the same way, Orozco-Estrada’s conducting and the musician’s playing of Debussy’s “Petit suite” (arranged by Henri Büsser for orchestra) was beguiling and enchanting. Principal flutist Jessica Sindell floated the lovely theme in the first movement (“In a boat”) with elegance and grace. Among the many pleasures of the second movement (“Cortege”) were the joyous orchestral crescendos and colorful ending. All of the woodwind principals sparkled in the third movement (“Minuet”), and the fourth movement (”Ballet”) contrasted lush phrases with punchy ones. As the music subsided, it seemed that the entire audience exhaled an “ah” of gratitude.


curtis heikkinen said...

Nice review, James. I am sorry that I missed the concert.

James Bash said...

Thanks Curtis! If either of these artists every return to PDX, it will be a must-see event.