MTT, New World wrap season with blazing Tchaikovsky

By Lawrence A. Johnson

If April is the cruelest month, then perhaps May is the most populist—at least in terms of music programming in Miami, the better to attract the thinning ranks of concertgoers, with so many seasonal residents having fled north.

The New World Symphony is closing its season this weekend with an all-Tchaikovsky lineup, designed to fill the vast Knight Concert Hall at the Arsht Center. The good news is that with Michael Tilson Thomas—one of our most inspirational Tchaikovsky conductors—on the podium, there was nothing routine about the music-making Saturday night.

The blazing performance of the Russian composer’s Symphony No. 5 was an exemplar of what makes MTT’s Tchaikovsky so distinctive. Even in this much-played and often-abused warhorse, the conductor and orchestra uncovered a myriad of scoring details and expressive turns buried by lesser hands who are content to whip up superficial speed and volume.

The clarinet introduction was not the usual lugubrious crawl but had a heart-piercing sense of nostalgic regret. The first movement’s development and drama were explosive but finely balanced with a supple, singing lyricism, textures polished to a high sheen.

The celebrated Andante cantabile proved a highlight Saturday night with Jonas Van Dyke floating an evocative horn solo and the cellos contributing beautifully burnished playing.

Most of all this was an organic performance, the long lines, masterfully controlled by MTT, unfolding with a natural, spacious grandeur. The finale was brilliant and impassioned, yet with climaxes lean and shorn of excess rhetoric. Tilson Thomas elicited a striking grace and even a balletic quality in this music, with the final triumphant bars providing a thrilling conclusion to the evening and season.

The orchestra’s playing was not immaculate Saturday with more slips and bloops that usual, but not enough to detract from the romantic spirit and excitement of this performance. 

The first half proved more variable, though the audience clearly enjoyed Vladimir Feltsman’s rendition of the not-obscure Piano Concerto No. 1.   

Feltsman is a strange breed of musician. The  Russian pianist can storm through the concerto’s landmines with a big sonority and faultless technique. Yet his stage personality and musical style is that of an impatient, vaguely irritated professor who wants to get class over with as quickly as possible.

 Feltsman’s playing was note perfect Saturday, his steel-fingered virtuosity conquering even the most complex thickets. Yet despite the bravura solo passages, and even with fiery tuttis whipped up by Tilson Thomas and the orchestra, Feltsman’s  performance felt cool, technocratic and disengaged, with a shiny surface brilliance and little to say about the music’s heart.

 Edward Abrams led off the evening with the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. Once again, the New World’s young conducting fellow elicited a vital performance bringing vigorous life to a repertoire standard, and drawing nimble dynamic shading from the cellos in the middle section.

The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall. 305-673-3331;


Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “MTT, New World wrap season with blazing Tchaikovsky”

  1. Posted May 03, 2009 at 12:47 pm by James

    Great concert. Thanks for your review. That pianist was great, but you were right – he seemed ready to leave, especially at the end.

  2. Posted May 03, 2009 at 7:27 pm by Clarice MacGarvey

    Larry, your informed, beautifully articulate reviews such as this one, are just one of the reasons we’ll miss you when you leave Miami.

  3. Posted May 03, 2009 at 10:20 pm by Alberto Mederos

    We’ll miss you Larry.
    I, in particular since we seem to coincide in almost everything our ears and heart get to experience here in Miami.
    I did not applaud the Piano Concerto on Saturday at all since I did not like one minute of it.
    It was “musica de caballitos” like we say in good Cuban jargon. (Amusement Park music) or even worse.
    Loved the FIFTH!

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Sun May 3, 2009
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