Last night the weather was wet, very wet and yet, the stage sparkled as if adorned by thousands of shining stars, compliments of the New York Philharmonic and the adroit humor of Bramwell Tovey. From the opening with Rossini’s William Tell Overture to R. Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier suite the stage was alight with brilliant music and copious amount of humour for perhaps one of the most entertaining evenings yet at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.
It all started with Guest Conductor Sheika Gramshammer, a local Vail celebrity and popular personality taking the stage with the New York Philharmonic. She presented the Overture Finale from William Tell with blistering speed. Obviously this is a piece the orchestra knows extremely well, because the performance was flawless, glowing with excitement and energy. At one point Ms Gramshammer turned to the audience to conduct in their clapping (and laughter) which added the perfect about of enthusiasm to bring the piece to a rousing finish. After the final note there was no hesitation from the audience in giving Ms Gramshammer and the New York Philharmonic a standing ovation – and what had started as a raining night in Vail was already shimmering.
Bramwell Tovey came out to continue the program with J. Strauss Jr. Overture to The Gypsy Baron. From the flourish of strings to the more dramatic punctuations, Tovey coaxes every emotion out of the orchestra. During the beautiful oboe solo the orchestra strings were held to near silent accompaniment, allowing the tender soft solo to shine through. As the piece begins to dance, so does Tovey’s baton; each pulse of the waltz delightfully shifting and whirling about the stage. Then, the fast paced ending dazzled the audience with the skill of the string players, their bows both articulate and blazingly fast. The program was hardly 15 minute in and already the rain was a distant memory.
Simone Dinnerstein joined the New York Philharmonic to astonish the audience with Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2. While this piece has plenty of moments to allow Ms Dinnerstein a chance to show off her skill on the piano, it is also a piece designed to meld the soloist with the orchestra, rather than set them against each other. The opening chorale by the brilliant woodwind section provides the material for the entire piece. When Ms Dinnerstein comes in (after the chorale), the piano begins with light, slow arpeggios, beautifully caressed across the keyboard. This slowly shifts to a fluttering right hand and then to strong pounding chords on the lower keys. Liszt’s piano concerto has the full range of emotion, from light and tender to dark and brooding. Ms Dinnerstein captured each moment beautifully, becoming an integral part of the orchestra, folding her performance into the mix when necessary and yet shimmering brightly when appropriate. At times her hands were flying across the keys and other’s she poised her fingers in preparation for the note playing waiting for the perfect emotional moment to bring the music to light. One of the highlights of the piece was during the Cello Solo by Carter Brey. Ms Dinnerstein became the accompanist providing rapid arpeggios underneath, beautifully articulate and emotionally charged. Although relatively new on the classical music scene, debuting at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall in 2005, she shows amazing maturity on the piano.
The second half of the program began with a short comic routine by the conductor. Maestro Tovey is a consummate performer, dazzling the audience with radiant wit, providing insight into Brahms’ Hungarian Dances No.4 and No. 3 (or is that No. 10 which is why is was second, rather than first). Stepping into the music Tovey obviously really enjoys the lush sounds of this music, guiding the orchestra through the emotional journey of each phrase. By the end of the two pieces, the audience was filled with laughter bubbling up from their enthusiasm of the performance. And, Wow! Again kudos to the strings as once again their bows were on fire at the end.
Before the final piece, R. Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Suite, Tovey took the opportunity to engage the audience once again. He understands showmanship and, while we were there to hear the orchestra perform, the audience laughed again and again at Maestro Tovey’s comic routine regaling the story of Der Rosenkavalier. The music matched Bramwell Tovey’s personality to a “T”, providing serious intellectual moments, but for the most part a delightful frolic of love and desire brought to life with beautiful music.
Even though it had rained earlier and even a bit during the performance, the gloom of the weather had completely faded away. The audience was on their feet with raucous applause to the point Tovey felt we deserved an encore. So, we were treated to yet another delightful monologue and Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5, which Tovey described as having an “a-ha” moment. And sure enough, as the orchestra played the first three notes, the audience responded in perfect unison “A HA!” followed by copious laughter.
It was a bright and beautiful night. Performing to a sold out house, even the lawn was packed (in spite of the rain), the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Bramwell Tovey was pure brilliance, a warm and enchanting dance among the stars.