No Wonder the New York Philharmonic wants Jaap van Zweden

by Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News

It was surprising that no public mention of The Big News was made Friday night at the Meyerson Symphony Center. But surely everyone in the audience knew by now that Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director Jaap van Zweden has been named the next music director of the New York Philharmonic, starting in 2018.

The evening’s performances certainly demonstrated van Zweden’s appeal for one of the world’s best-known orchestras. We heard the DSO playing with precision, finesse and expressivity scarcely imaginable eight years ago. Finding a worthy successor here will be a big challenge.

At the center of the program, unusually, were two concertos. Getting its world premiere was the Serenada concertante for oboe and orchestra by the 41-year-old American composer Jeremy Gill. Featuring DSO principal oboist Erin Hannigan, for whom it was conceived, it certainly showed off her technical brilliance, but also heartfelt lyricism.

Nineteen minutes long, in three more or less fast-slow-fast sections played without pause, it’s replete with imaginative textures and interplays between soloist and orchestra. Solo strings play flourishes through quiet clusters; horn and harp accompany a dreamy, exploratory episode; upsweeping winds animate another passage. Clattering wood blocks set off a final section of offbeat quasi-dancelike music.

By turns stringing out lyric lines, weaving arabesques and exploding in flourishes and runs, the oboe seems almost to tell a tale. It’s hard to imagine a soloist more authoritative or more eloquent than Hannigan, and van Zweden led an incisive, finely detailed orchestral collaboration.

The best-known piano duo of recent decades, Katia and Marielle Labèque, brought brittle, sassy brilliance to the Poulenc Concerto for two pianos, but also, in introspective music, dreamy loveliness. Again, van Zweden and the orchestra were partners wholly in kind. (Why, though, does no one play the gloriously tuneful Poulenc Concerto for one piano?) The encore was the last of Philip Glass’ Four Movements for two pianos.

Framing the program, Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture and Symphony No. 39 got vividly characterized performances, suave and stylish. High drama was balanced by smartly sprung rhythms and elegantly shaped phrases. Counterpoints were brought out just so.

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