Saratoga Welcomes Back the Philadelphia with Elegance, Cannons and Fireworks

The Philadelphia Orchestra opened its 2019 summer season at Saratoga Performing Arts Center with a bang. The opening concert of classical music and dance was conducted by their principal guest conductor Stéphane Dèneve.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

As the daylight began to fade, the opening piece was a performance of “Sheherazade”, opus 35 by Nicholai Rimsky-Korsakov, a beautiful tone poem that tells the story of the “Arabian Nights” with soaring melodies. The part of the storyteller, Sheherazade, is performed by solo violin, played with great skill by concertmaster David Kim.  Flutes, oboes, clarinets, viola, bass, and trombones added their characters to the stories, performing with a spectacular combination of precision and passion, keeping the audience entranced for the hour-long piece.

It was a world-class performance. At one point, the audience seemed to all inhale at once after Kim released a perfectly held and dramatic high pitch for what appeared to be an impossible amount of time.

The following pieces were Valse Triste, opus 44 by Jean Sibelius and La Valse by Maurice Ravel. These were performed with ballet provided by the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) and choreographed by Gene Hill Sagan. The orchestra seemed to disappear; only their sound remained, whilst the graceful dancers held the audience’s interest with their gorgeous movement. Dressed in swirling black and gold, the dancers provided an elegant counterpoint to rich harmonies.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

The final offering was the 1812 overture: “Solemn Overture, 1812” opus 49 by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky. After the somber opening representing the tragic retreat of the battered Russian forces in the face of Napoleon’s onslaught, the orchestra applied great enthusiasm and bombast during the battle sequence, topped off with live cannon fire at the climax of the conflict.  The musical performance was excellent.

The “1812” is often performed this way and the cannon’s sound can really add to the music or it can be a distraction from the brilliance on stage. On opening night, the cannon shots blasted out from behind the audience and the shockwave echoed off the walls and newly installed glass rails. Surprised patrons looked nervous, but those expecting the blasts were prepared for the grand effect. In years past, the artillery took advantage of SPAC’s generous campus and was located further from the audience.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Overall the concert was enjoyable and everyone is happy to have the Philadelphia back in Saratoga for the summer.

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