This past Friday evening, the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Music Director and Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, took the stage at Hill Auditorium for a concert that was one of the best that I can remember. The program paired Wynton Marsalis’s brand-new Tuba Concerto (which premiered in December 2021) with Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in c minor, Op. 68.
The Tuba Concerto, which was performed by Carol Jantsch, Principal Tubist and University of Michigan graduate (for whom the piece was, in fact, written), was spectacular. Though the tuba is an orchestral instrument that generally maintains a low profile musically, if not physically, this piece featured it in all its glory. Defying categorization, the four-movement piece incorporated a wide range of musical genres and idioms, including jazz and blues. Indeed, it was energetic, maintained a toe-tapping groove at times, and showcased the mind-blowing technical and stylistic range of Ms. Jantsch. In one of the most fascinating parts of the concerto, during the first movement (entitled “Up!”), Ms. Jantsch employed multiphonics, a technique in which she played one note on her tuba while simultaneously singing a different pitch. The effect is almost mystical, and one that causes listeners to sit forward in their seats and wonder where the additional pitches, which almost sound like a sort of humming, are coming from. The concerto also made use of a wide variety of percussion instruments and sounds, including vibraphone, cymbals, bells, handclapping, and others, to create an ever-changing soundscape. Because this piece is so new, no recordings yet exist, but I am anxiously awaiting when I can hear it again!
In the second half of the concert, Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in c minor, Op. 68 was equally stunning, for different reasons. The rich sounds of Brahms’s composition were a perfect match for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and they enveloped Hill Auditorium. In particular (although I am biased as an oboe player), I will not soon forget the tender, singing oboe solo at the beginning of the symphony’s second movement (Andante sostenuto), performed by principal oboist Philippe Tondre.
To rapturous applause, the Philadelphia Orchestra concluded the concert with an encore of “Hail to the Victors,” performed on tuba by Ms. Janstch, complete with blazing technical display. For the final chorus, the full orchestra joined in, led by Mr. Yannick Nézet-Séguin wearing a University of Michigan cap.
Program aside, it was an enormous pleasure to be able to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra in Hill Auditorium. Their depth of sound and musical coordination is evident in everything that they play, and Mr. Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s energy and connection with the orchestra as a conductor is clear, even from the upper rows of the auditorium. It was a performance not to be missed!