What a festive atmosphere here in Vail Colorado! The beautiful space of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is incredible, with a high vaulted cover offering both access to the open air and great accoustics. The Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Charles Dutoit are back at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival for their third year and, based on the applause as Charles Dutoit took the stage to lead the orchestra in a standing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, they are well loved here.
The concert began with Garrick Ohlsson on the piano for Beethoven's Concerto No 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73. From power to practically imperceptible, Dutoit's adept touch led the Philadelphia Orchestra beautifully through the opening moments of the Beethoven. Nicely building the crescendos in a late classical style, Ohlsson and Dutoit deftly glided through the opening Allegro con Spirito. The piece sets the pianist against the orchestra with a contrary relationship, yet the conductor and soloist were in perfect synchronicity. The orchestra melded under the piano allowing Ohlsson to shine with even some of the lightest touches of the piano keys. Later, as Ohlsson's hands warred against each other with opposing emotion, the subtle strength of the orchestral pizzicato brought an elegant tension to the movement.
The Adagio un poco mosso is obviously one of Ohlsson's favorite sections of the piece. His passion was subtle but clear, soft and yet ever present. The wonderful "sunrise" opening to the movement was absolutely beautiful, tender, soft and delicate - yet blooming into the brightness of a new day. Another highlight was the amazing control of Richard Woodhams and Peter Smith in a short but serene oboe duet. As the piece modulates and explores the more tonal obscurities of the romanitic side of Beethoven's music, the expertly played fluttering tremolo of the piano becomes a musical effect rather than series of notes. Ohlsson handles the music effortlessly - so smooth it disappears into the fabric of the piece.
In the Rondo the playful aspect of the music comes out. Again, Dutoit handles the orchestra and the classical repetitive figures with precision and skill. Watching Ohlsson and Dutoit dance about the Rondo added to the fun and ultimately brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation at the close of the first half of the concert.
Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances opened the second half of the concert. Power, strength, beauty, passion, rhythmic drive, pulse, movement and energy are building and shifting constantly throughout this piece. Dutoit understands where orchestra IS and where it's going at every moment, bringing intensity as the piece builds - bringing the volume up and down as is necessary without ever losing the intensity. He moved through the tempo shifts as if wandering through a dream, fluid - constantly changing. When the first Violins and Cellos took the beautiful melody, Dutoit caressed the orchestra through. As the piece got darker, he hunched his shoulders and brought out gremlins in the orchestra - encouraging the lower strings to really get the most out of their anger - then intensly driving home the percussive beats. Then the music shifts to another melodic section and more loving caresses by the conductor. Toward the end, Dutoit was like the sea-god Poseidon, swelling the orchestra as he might ocean tides. The performance brought the audience to their feet for yet another standing ovation.
The final piece of the evening was la valse by Ravel. It starts ever so subtly, as if the darkness of night were creeping out of the shadow in twilight. Eventually, the upper strings are brought in as if they were playing a lovely, rich Strauss Waltz and yet there was always an edge to the music - something off balance. Dutoit kept the orchestra dancing the fine line of beautiful music and manic insanity, as if the music were played by the mentally deranged, in their minds performing the most beautiful music imaginable. Yet, there was always a Tim Burton-esque edge, bordering on psychotic. It is beautiful music, and yet also tormented by memories of the First World War.
The Philadelphia Orchestra proved once again why they are so very popular at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, earning three standing ovations in one evening. Charles Dutoit definitely brings out the most of this world class organization. With Tomorrow night's concert offering more Beethoven with Gil Shaham performing the Violin Concerto in D Major and the immense passion of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, it is shaping up to be a stunning weekend here in Vail.