NSO creates fine embroideries under the direction of Tortelier

For his return to the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra this week after three decades of absence, conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier performed an impressionist program gilded with finesse and elegance.

Replacement of musical director Gianandrea Noseda, who launched her concurrent tenure in the same role at the Zurich Opera with Verdi He finds this month, Tortelier said he had a “wonderful week” with a tighter and more expressive orchestra. The musicians maintained a delicate balance that allowed easily overlooked vocals to emerge through precise phrasing in selections from George Bizet’s Suites Nos. 1 and 2. L’Arlesiennethe East Coast premiere of an NSO co-commission by Angélica Negrón (In otra noche, in otro mundo), and the complete “choreographic symphony” from the ballet Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel. The entire program came together to evoke bucolic landscapes and idylls.

The National Symphony Orchestra interpreted a golden impressionist program with finesse and elegance under the baton of Yan Pascal Tortelier. Photo by Tracey Salazar.

Particularly noteworthy was Tortelier’s deliberate use of silence, a pregnant silence that is also a form of music, causing some audience members to gasp audibly and keeping musicians nervous as they waited for the conductor’s signal to blowing, hitting, touching, scratching or bowing. their instruments. The fermatas on the notes were also held just long enough to entice the audience to lean in closer.

Thus, at the opening of the concert with the Pastorale de L’Arlesienneof Suite No. 2, Tortelier prolongs the final vibrato of the cellos before the pizzicato of the upper strings closes the movement. There was a foreboding clarity in the flute (Aaron Goldman) and harp (Adriana Horne) duet joined later by a saxophone (Paul Tucker) in the minuet of the same suite – which, unlike the other movements, is unprepared from incidental music by Bizet to that of Alphonse Daudet. L’Arlesienne play and comes instead of his 1866 opera The pretty girl from Perth (The Fair Maid of Perth) based on the novel of the same name by Sir Walter Scott.

“Bizet is what we call in English ‘bread and butter’. It’s our music by nature,” Tortelier said, speaking in French in an interview ahead of the first of three evening concerts that kicked off Thursday with a final performance on Saturday. After a somewhat loose start on the violins, the orchestra quickly regains cohesion and crisp precision at ease with the visiting conductor. “What’s important is to have an osmosis between the conductor and the orchestra,” explained Tortelier, noting his similarities to “brother conductor” Noseda, who led the BBC Philharmonic. from 2002 to 2011 in the wake of his French friend’s 12-year stay there. . “I think we’re pretty similar in how we make and feel about music.”

Tortelier first led the ONS in 1991 – when cellist Mstislav Rostropovitch was musical director – for an all-French program by Ravel and Berlioz, returning in 1993 to perform with finalists in the Leonard Rose Cello Competition. “At 75, I hope I have progressed since the first time I came and that in 30 years I have matured and conducted better,” said Tortelier, who served as principal conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. from 2016 to 2019. “But it has to be said, the orchestra has made tremendous progress and the result is that I am having an absolutely idyllic and wonderful week with the orchestra.”

The NSO has co-commissioned a new work by Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón. Photo by Catalina Kulczar.

Negrón’s moving piece, which the ONS co-commissioned with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra where she is composer-in-residence, is inspired by the short poem of the same name by Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik and the technique of composition in bell shape from Arvo Pärt. Harp, bells and crotales – small pitched cymbals – create melancholy patterns echoing in shimmering strings that bounce from section to section above a dense organ line. A musical sunrise pierced through in contrast to eerie glissandos and ominous siren blasts against a bass drone. “It’s also a very personal reflection on my own inability to be fully present in the moment and my constant desire to escape to a different time and place,” the Puerto Rican composer said of the work. “I wanted to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and yearning for something that may never come.”

The tour de force of the evening undoubtedly came with Daphnis and Chloe (1909-1912), which is inextricably linked to Tortelier’s DNA as a conductor and which he describes as “the greatest score of French music”. He performed the impressionist masterpiece several times throughout his career, including for a recording some 30 years ago with the Ulster Orchestra. In rare delight, Tortelier presented the entire “choreographic symphony” originally commissioned by impresario Sergei Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes, but since rarely staged as a full ballet production. Orchestras tend to perform Suite No. 2 as a stand-alone piece. The screenplay was adapted from an ancient Greek novel about a goatherd and a shepherdess.

Yan Pascal Tortelier became a conductor after an early career as a concert violinist which also saw him perform with his father, cellist Paul Tortelier, and his sister Maria de la Pau on the piano. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tortelier condensed or deleted certain passages that he considered less effective for orchestral setting. In one of his most idiosyncratic moves, he had the house lights turned off almost completely during the closing of Part I. Slow and mysterious dance (slow and mysterious dance), after a group of pirates kidnap Chloe. Darkness replaced a chorus of wordless voices that wouldn’t be particularly supportive of COVID at the start of Part Two, when the god Pan heads to the pirates’ camp to scare them away. Tortelier also removed the role of cowherd Dorcon from his dance with Daphnis. The comically awkward gestures, which end amid orchestrated laughter, would have provided a humorous counterpoint to Daphnis’ “light and graceful” gestures.

The densely layered colors of the dreamlike composition highlighted harp, flute and violin solos, as well as an exquisite conversation between the woodwinds. Among the many surprises is the repeated use of the wind machine, or éliophone, to make art truly imitate life. “Do you know a sound more beautiful than a symphony orchestra, honestly?” asked Tortelier. It’s a shame that only about a quarter of the hall’s 2,465 seats were filled to hear.

The National Symphony Orchestra performed under the baton of Yan Pascal Tortelier on October 28, 29 and 30, 2021, at the Kennedy Center. Consult the digital program here.

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