The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra gave an astounding performance on Thursday at Hill Auditorium. Lead by Semyon Bychkov, the group played three beautiful pieces, each which lead to standing ovations. The audience appreciation at the end was large enough that two encore pieces were played as well, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances 1 and 2.
Starting off the concert was Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in b minor. Soloist Alisa Weilerstein played absolutely exquisitely for the duration of the 40 minute composition. There was such a fantastic balance between the full orchestra and the melody of the cello. My favorite part of this section was definitely the second movement, which was slower and a lot more lyrical than its preceding or following sections which were marked by faster and brighter sounds. To me, this second part did the best job of showcasing Weilerstein’s skills as well.
Following intermission, the orchestra next played Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. This is one of my favorite classical pieces, as renowned choreographer George Balanchine choreographed his famous Serenade to this piece. Even as the Czech Philharmonic played the very notes I could already picture the starting formation of the dancers. The string instruments are showcased in this piece and they did not disappoint. For me, it was noticeable that I was not the only one who felt this way when at one point when I looked around me and everyone was raptly concentrated on Bychkov and the music that was being performed.
The third piece of the program was another by Tchaikovsky, this one titled Francesca da Ramini. Probably the easiest to follow out of the three pieces, it is a musical translation of Canto V from Dante’s Inferno. It was such an experience to hear this piece played and to know what parts of the story were being referenced. In the beginning, the music was explosive and descending chords signaled Dante’s further descent into hell. This was followed by a transition into haunting and lyrical melodies as Francesca da Ramini explains her tragic story. The last part of the piece is marked by more fiery and ominous music to signal Dante’s horror at the pain surrounding him until he finally faints and descends into another layer of hell.
It was hard to know what could follow the phenomenal ending of that piece, but the encores were so much different in their intensity levels and actually provided a very fun ending to the program. Each of the pieces was very short, only around 5 minutes, but it was a pleasure to listen to these as the rhythms were very much reminiscent of dances, albeit with an entire orchestra. The first one characterized by really triumphant chords. The second one was just as vibrant, just slightly slower and softer in sound.
Overall, it was such a privilege to be able to come and see this renowned orchestra perform in Ann Arbor. I look forward to the next time we are graced with their presence and what new pieces they will bring.