Last night, the University of Michigan’s historic Hill Auditorium served as host to one of the greatest orchestral ensembles in the world: the Philadelphia Orchestra. As one of the most recorded American orchestras of all time, the Philadelphia Orchestra is generally considered to be part of the “Big 5” American orchestras along with Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Boston. After their performance in Hill last night, it was easy to see what all of the hype was about. They opened the concert with a piece by Nico Muhly, a newer composer who incorporates a lot of minimalist concepts into his music. He combined beautiful moments that could have been part of a Tchaikovsky symphony with a lot of instances of almost atmospheric sounding music where it seemed like nobody really knew what was going on except the orchestra. The piece features a lot of percussion, and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s section is one of the best. There were many tricky xylophone and vibraphone licks accompanied by huge booming moments from the timpani and bass drum. All in all, they did a great job with what seemed to be a complex and challenging piece. After the Muhly, the orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with world renowned violinist, Lisa Batiashvili, as the soloist. Her playing was electric. Honestly, in terms of interpretation, he rendition wasn’t my favorite version of the concerto, but nobody can deny how great her sound was, especially when combined with the lush background provided by the orchestra. The audience loved it so much that Ms. Batiashvili received a more raucous applause after the first movement than most orchestras do after a whole concert, prompting Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the music director, to turn to the audience and say “There is still a second and third movement”. After ending the piece in an energetic fashion, Ms. Batiashvili and the orchestra were met with an even more enthusiastic applause than the one before and an almost immediate standing ovation. As an encore, Yannick and Ms. Batiashvili performed a song for voice and piano by Tchaikovsky that Mr. Nezet-Seguin adapted for piano and violin. As expected, it was performed beautifully and the audience erupted once more to take the concert to intermission. The first half encore also served as a reminder that Mr. Nezet-Seguin will be coming back to Hill to perform as a pianist with a renowned soprano, a concert sure to be well attended by those who viewed this one. In the second half, the orchestra performed Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, a somewhat newer 20th century masterwork that epitomizes the type of music this orchestra is traditionally known for recording. It was phenomenal. The loud sections were enormous and incredibly exciting. Seemingly every member of the orchestra had a solo at some point and they were all executed to perfection. The principal trombonist, especially, impressed me. His tone and overall sound were exactly what I wanted to hear from his instrument. Hill Auditorium is a huge hall that hides the articulation from low instruments, but the timpani and low brass sounded absolutely incredible and everything I heard them play was clear as day. The strings really shined as they played through the sweet soft sections interspersed throughout the piece. Overall, this was easily the best rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances I have ever heard. Just when the audience thought the night could not get any better, the Philadelphia Orchestra decided to wow the Ann Arbor crowd with their encore selection. They played “The Victors”. It probably sounded incredible, but I don’t think anybody really knows because the whole audience was clapping and singing along, overjoyed that they decided to play our fight song. To top it off, the percussion section broke out Michigan hats and scarves while the tuba player, a Michigan alumnus, clapped and fist pumped along with the audience. The whole encore was quite a spectacle and served as the perfect end to one of the best performances I’ve seen at Hill.