Friday, January 8, 2016

Zubin Mehta and the Israeli Philharmonic in Review - 7 Jan 2016

The Israeli Philharmonic's concert with 'Musical Director for Life' Zubin Mehta tonight was perfection in every sense of the word.

Security was the tightest I have ever had to go through at a concert, with metal detectors manned by a dozen young police officers as though we are going through customs. The well-heeled queue snaked across the Esplanade foyer all the way to the theatre which thankfully was closed for the night. No wonder as we soon see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong holding court in the foyer with the Israeli Ambassador Ms. Mamta Mukherjee.

Security scanners during intermission
The sold-out concert started with the audience literally on their feet as Mehta personally led the 110-strong orchestra (also standing) in the national anthems of Singapore and Israel. The orchestra then delivered a programme that is strong and robust yet rich in detail and emotion.

The first piece on the programme, Beethoven's Leonore Overture no.3, is one of the aborted overtures composed for his only opera, eventually titled Fidelio after many revisions. Themes from the opera can be heard in the piece along with unfamiliar festive or melecholic themes, particularly the offstage trumpets that signal Minister Don Fernando's arrival in the opera.

Ravel's La Valse contrasts modernist dissonant effects against the traditional Viennese waltz, setting off cacophonous effects against lilting triple time ballroom music. With an eye for broad structure, conductor and orchestra paid close attention to subtle shifts in dynamics, tempering the more cantankerous parts and melding them with lyrical portions with seemingly natural grace. Contrary to his flamboyant interpretations and prolific public persona, Maestro Mehta's stage gestures are simple but direct, making every gesture worth its weight.

After warming-up with the bite-sized overture and showing off their versatility with the Ravel in the first half, the orchestra got to flex their symphonic muscle in Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony Pathetique. The orchestra enhanced the symphony's overriding Romanticism and melencholy with a rich, full tone, each instrument blended into one complete sound and delivered with utmost conviction.

Two encores closed the evening, the ball music from Swan Lake and Thunder and Lighting by Johann Strauss. To top of the evening's festivities, a birthday cake was rolled out onstage to celebrate the Maestro's 80th birth year (the actual day is on 29 April). The audience sent orchestra and conductor home with a standing ovation and thunderous applause.


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