For good reason, rounds of bravos sang over the clapping pulses of praise for the New England Conservatory Philharmonia under Hugh Wolff at Symphony Hall. Stravinsky’s The Firebird was an utter smash hit. Violinist Alexi Kenney astonished in John Adams’ Concerto. Andrew Norman’s Drip Blip Sparkle… was just that and more.
A remarkable showing of youth everywhere onstage at Symphony Hall Wednesday evening inspired from the very beginning dripping sounds of a recently composed work that gets caught up in our contemporary mode of freneticism all the way to the final major chords from an early 20th century masterpiece proclaiming triumph. Every bit of the time these young musicians would shine under their dedicated leader Hugh Wolff who appeared to be pleased if not proud of their extraordinary accomplishments.
Drip Blip Sparkle Spin Glint Glide Glow Float Flop Chop Pop Shatter Splash by Andrew Norman (b. 1979) tantalized as it played out a cartoonish four-minute scene. Norman likes to “say to the kids who listen to this piece during school visits, the process of writing was a bit like making a tossed salad. I chopped up sounds from the orchestra—one sound for each of the 13 verbs in the title—and then I tossed them all together and called it a piece.” NEC trombone’s comic slides, string sections’ outpouring of spoofed Romanticism, along with winds’ and percussion’s deluge of fun, well-tossed and -dressed all the way. Their sheer execution of Norman’s score struck dead-on with spiffiness.
The recipient of a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, violinist Alexi Kenny has given recitals at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and in Chicago’s Dame Myra Hess series. He has played chamber music with Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Institute and will be touring with Musicians from Marlboro this coming year. Born in Palo Alto, California, in 1994, Alexi received his Bachelor of Music degree from NEC, where he is currently the only violinist in its selective Artist Diploma program.
John Adams (b. 1947 not 1971 as the program booklet has it) writes of his Violin Concerto, “the violin spins one long phrase after another without stop for nearly the full thirty-five minutes of the piece.” Kenny’s absolute control over Adams’ “hypermelody” spoke of this young violinist’s naturalness for that instrument. Kenny’s technique erased doubts of any kind as to tuning, which was so finely wrought. His sound from high on the fingerboard to the lowest open string was as even and clear-throated as a cardinal’s song in spring.
In an update, NEC informed me that Alexi Kenney would not be playing the famous “Joachim-Ma” violin; apparently, he felt that he needed more time with the instrument.
There were moments in the concerto. The third movement began to show signs of balance. However, most of the time, the orchestra could hardly be heard, it was mostly a murmur. Three possible contributing factors might have been: a cautious restraint from Wolff, Kenney’s huge sound, and my seat in the orchestra section. While Kenney could be admired, Adams suffered significantly.
Hugh Wolff was clearly at home with the original 1910 version of Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Not far into the introduction, the young orchestra conjured deeper and deeper mystery and magic. The firebird’s dance took gentile flight and the dance of supplication pled feelingly.
The suppleness of the instrumentalists rose to Stravinsky’s sinuously ever-changing orchestrations. There was color galore from the entire orchestra. The climatic moves kept mounting and mounting. The youth of NEC nearly blew the rafters down at Symphony Hall when Prince Ivan shattered the evil Kashchay’s golden egg.
The splendor in victory coming when Ivan leads a celebratory parade could not have been more spine-tingling than it was with these adept players under Firebird phenom Wolff.
Program notes from two contemporary composers, along with those of Wolff on the Firebird informed us immensely. Projected supertitles for guiding through the ballet’s action made this performance one-of-a-kind for a concert performance.