Something Old, Something New with the Philadelphia: Yannick Returns – Wednesday, August 7th

Celebrate something old and something new. It’s another night of premiers at SPAC! Beloved conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin returns to SPAC following his first official season with the Metropolitan Opera. Yannick has managed to solidify himself as a star in the international conducting scene, and is respected across opera, orchestral, and chamber works. He’s a breath of fresh air, both through his attitude and aptitude for leading.

The Kimmel Center, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Jessica Griffin )

The program fits perfectly into this season of SPAC premieres, and opens with a piece written by a female conductor (I believe the first of the Philadelphia season)! Anna Clyne’s Masquerade is a kaleidoscopic take on original mid-18th century promenade concerts help among London’s “pleasure gardens.” There are strong impressionistic elements in this piece, with the opening sounding like a winds heavy storm of Rachmaninoff. You can hear contemporary elements of percussion and texture wrapped around an old English country dance melody and finally a drinking song, immediately transporting the listener. Even if contemporary music isn’t your style, this piece is almost too fun to resist.

This piece is followed by Chausson’s Poéme de l’amour et de la mer, bringing Yannick into SPAC’s water theme. This song cycle is an absolute treat, and about as French and Romantic as you can get. Chausson adds gorgeous color to these lush poems by Maurice Bouchor on love, loss, and the sea. Yannick is joined by two time Grammy winning Sasha Cooke, a mezzo-soprano called a “luminous standout” by the New York Times. Ms. Cooke’s appearance speaks to Yannick’s growing star and will illuminate his abilities as an operatic conductor. This winter Yannick conducted the French masterwork Pelléas et Mélisande at the Met Opera, and with Chausson’s style and Cooke’s lush voice, this is a piece of that world class performance brought to us in Saratoga.

The evening will close with Rachmaninoff’s Symphony no. 1, another piece to make its SPAC premiere. This symphony was lost for nearly 50 years following its disastrous premiere. Critics ripped the 22-year-old Rachmaninoff apart, only for the piece to be resurrected to great success. Eugene Ormandy, one of the founders of SPAC, conducted the American premiere in 1948 with the Philadelphia, and it is fitting that it should arrive at SPAC by the same institution. This is the most reminiscent of Rachmaninoff’s symphonies, with each movement closely mirroring a style of other Russian greats of the era such as Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky. It is truly a beautiful piece and a great way to wrap up a night of such romance.

Yannick’s return represents a slight shift in the Philadelphia’s programming. Yannick is a strong proponent of living composers, and the remainder of the season skews towards contemporary. This is a great success for CEO Elizabeth Sobel and Artistic Director Chris Shiley. There’s a new element of fun added to Saratoga nights, and you shouldn’t miss it.

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