Soprano lifts an uneven season opener for New World Symphony

By Lawrence Budmen

Jeanine De Bique performed excerpts from von Weber’s Der Freischütz Saturday night with the New World Symphony. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Rain dampened the crowd in number and spirit on the lawn outside the New World Center on Saturday night. But a nearly full house in the newly rechristened Michael Tilson Thomas Performance Hall greeted New World Symphony players for the opening concert of the 35th anniversary season of the orchestral academy. 

One would scarcely have guessed that thirty-six new members have joined the ensemble from the discipline and unanimity of the playing throughout the evening. Still, what was too often lacking was the kind of inspired music-making that Tilson Thomas and the best guest conductors routinely bring to the podium.

Christoph Koncz (principal second violin of the Vienna Philharmonic, conductor of Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss am Rhein and principal guest conductor of the French period band Les Musiciens du Louvre) was the evening’s conductor, Sadly, he proved more efficient than musically illuminating. Despite much fine playing, particularly from the horns, the Overture to Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber emerged overly cautious. Phrasing of thematic motifs sounded stilted and lacking in distinctive character. The brass tended to overpowered other instrumental choirs.

Jeanine De Bique was the soloist for two arias from this pathbreaking German romantic opera. The Trinidadian soprano is a major talent, blessed with a lyric voice that is silvery and beautiful. Her vocal production is even, without a break from the lowest notes to a firm top. 

De Bique produced ethereal soft tones for the night reverie of “Lind ob die Wolke sie verhülle.” In the more dramatic “Wie nahte mir der Schmuller,” she sustained long lines spun with grace and embodied the conflicted emotions of the heroine Agathe. Koncz provided solid accompaniment, enhanced by vivid clarinet and cello solos.

Til Eulenspiegels Merry Pranks, the lively Richard Strauss tone poem, needed greater lightness from Koncz, who led a reading that was episodic and heavy handed. The volinist-conductor seemed to misjudge the acoustic in the hall, with balances weighted toward brassy climaxes. While Till’s crucial horn theme was articulated with exactness, ligher sections were smoothed over to the point of blandness. This prankster lacked the wit needed to make his humorous impact.

Christoph Koncz. Photo: Susanne Diesner

Fanfare for Uhrovec by Stephen Koncz, the brother of Christoph, received its world premiere. This spirited and joyous mix of Bohemian folk dances and brass exclamations is a delight and should become a pop concert standard.  A brilliant, full-throttle performance displayed conductor and orchestra at their best.

The Symphony No. 3 in F Major is the most difficult of Johannes Brahms’ four symphonies to bring off in performance. Koncz took a middle-of-the-road approach that worked best in the middle movements. The lyrical pulse of the Andante, spun winningly by sweet toned and well coordinated winds, was matched by a haunting Poco allegretto, played straightforwardly without affectation. A warmly sonorous horn solo by Thea Humphries embellished the main melody. 

In the outer movements, Koncz pinpointed instrumental details deftly but his broad tempos and dispassionate direction overall made for an accurate but largely uninspired Brahms outing.

As an encore, Koncz led more Brahms—the Hungarian Dance No. 10 in F Major, played with the kind of elan and vibrancy that would have been welcome earlier in the program.  

The recent appointment of Stephane Dèneve as artistic director portends an exciting new chapter for New World Symphony fellows and audiences. Judging from much of this season opener, Dèneve cannot take the Miami Beach podium soon enough.

Following intermission, Tilson Thomas, now artistic director laureate, received a nearly two-minute standing ovation when he took the stage with Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen. The duo announced a $10 million dollar Knight grant for new technologies and outreach programs of NWS.

The New World Symphony will repeat the program 2 p.m. Sunday at New World Center in Miami Beach.  

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the New World Symphony in an all-Rachmaninoff program including the Symphony No. 2 and Piano Concerto No. 3 with Yefim Bronfman 8 p.m. October 22 at the Arsht Center in Miami.      

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Sun Oct 16, 2022
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