Yannick’s Triumphant Return to Saratoga! August 16th

Two heartthrobs on one stage? SPAC has outdone themselves! Yannick is finally returning to Saratoga following his family emergency and I am certainly glad to have him back. Although Watanabe more than held up during last week’s emergency performances, Yannick truly holds the soul of the Philadelphia Orchestra right now and is always a treat to hear conduct. The program features pieces from only 1850-1856, making it a nearly microscopic look at the decade that formed romantic music. Although not the most daring of SPAC’s programs this season, it is certainly going to be a beautiful night.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Conductor

The program opens with Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin, surprisingly a SPAC premiere (to be frank, a Wagner premiere is hardly bragging material). This night seems based around recognizable music, almost to the point of being a pops concert, and listeners will recognize this piece immediately. It’s stunning, to begin with. Wagner’s Lohengrin is a sensitive opera full of reflection both of which are heard in this prelude. The piece opens with shimmering woodwinds and strings, you can hear the light reflecting off of calm water as the sun rises. This piece is calm, beautiful, and weighted. It features beautiful Wagnerian counterpoint. The moment the brass enters may break your heart. Although only 8(ish) minutes long, the piece seems to hold you in space as it drives constantly forwards. It will be exciting to see how Yannick manipulates this piece as it leaves much room for interpretation. I’m betting he’ll be able to draw in and prepare the audience for the night of epic music to follow, and like the calm before the storm the Wagner Prelude will set up the drama to come.

The program follows with Grieg’s Piano Concerto played by star pianist Jan Lisiecki. The 23-year-old Canadian has spent the last few years touring the globe and playing with the world’s best orchestras. Grieg himself wrote his concerto at 24, so it is fitting the young musician should put his spin on the work. The piece opens with an instantly recognizable piano flourish, which may cause the audience to jump a little after the soothing Wagner. Grieg’s music is filled with palpable energy and wrapped in late romantic composition ideals. Like Wagner’s music, you will be able to hear recognizable themes throughout the piece that you’ll whistle the whole way home following the performance. The orchestration is lush and daring, giving the piece great power and sense of gesture. Like many of Grieg’s works, you will recognize this piece. Shockingly, it hasn’t been played at SPAC in over a decade, a shock for such a popular piece of music.

Jan Lisiecki, Pianist

Finally, the night will end with Dvorak’s Symphony no. 7. The piece was written to reflect the struggle of the people of Prague to protect the Czech homeland, and the desperation mixed with pride rings throughout the symphony. In classic Dvorak fashion this piece uses lush string sections, complex melodies hovering between keys, and stunning woodwind solos. Dvorak paints a programmatic picture through classic romantic symphony form. This piece is almost textbook romantic era music, which is hard to dislike. And much like the music of the era, Dvorak is not afraid to put his soul on the page. Throughout you can hear the composer mourning his mother and eldest child, who passed as he was creating the piece. These moments of tenderness play off of the Slavic pride shown through Slavonic melodies to create a well-balanced symphony full of tenderness and adventure. It is truly a stunning piece of music.

This isn’t a daring concert. It’s very safe, but that does not diminish the beauty of the pieces, talent of young Lisiecki, or ability of conductor Yannick. Yannick will excel in leading these pieces that have lived in the classical canon since their creation – a fact that speaks alone to their beauty. Wagner, Grieg, and Dvorak create an undeniable lineup, and the choice to perform pieces written in such a short timespan creates a lens into a time similarly turbulent to our own.

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