Premiere Performances: Standing Ovations for Three New Works Showcasing the Fabulous Philadelphia Sound
Even as the last sounds of Tan Dun’s Nu Shu were reverberating through Verizon Hall, the audience was on its feet. “The response blew me away,” says Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen, who had just given the American premiere of Tan Dun’s Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, Symphony for Microfilms, Harp, and Orchestra, which the composer wrote specifically for her. “It was such a rush for me and it was actually incredibly emotional. I just never know what this piece is going to do to me. We played it in Shanghai and I got emotional there but this was such a homecoming … such wonderful support from my colleagues and Yannick. What a fantastic experience.”
Chinese composer Tan Dun says he was still tweaking right up until concert time. “One minute before the show started, I went to Yannick’s dressing room and said, ‘I’m sorry, I changed something!’”
Also on Thursday night, the Orchestra gave the world premiere of Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto, written for Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner. “It was such a pleasure to play with Yannick and this orchestra,” says Khaner. “What can I say? It’s exhilarating and thrilling and exiting,” says Khaner.
Hearing the piece performed for the first time—after months of hearing bits and pieces in his head—is like a mother seeing her child for the first time, says Ranjbaran. “That’s a magical moment,” he says. “I found myself on my feet and cheering,” says David Ludwig, who was in the audience Thursday night. His new bassoon concerto, Pictures from the Floating World, written for Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa, premiered Friday afternoon.
Matsukawa says he wants to change the name of the piece to Pictures from Cloud Nine. “Because I’m on cloud nine!” he says. “I live for this kind of writing. And that it’s written for me, and this premiere, this orchestra—wow. It’s a dream come true. I can say every cliché ever written. And this is why. It’s really amazing. Remarkable.”
“I’m totally overwhelmed,” says Ludwig. “I’m overwhelmed by Danny and Yannick and the Orchestra. Yeah, I’m overwhelmed! A little verklempt, actually.”
Three new works by three very different modern day composers—each written for a principal player of The Philadelphia Orchestra. “I can hear that you have the specific sound of this orchestra in mind,” Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin said to the composers, during a post-concert chat on stage. “It’s a real journey to imagine this,” says Nézet-Séguin, who has been the driving force behind premiering all three works in one exciting weekend. “When you launch an idea,” he says, “we don’t know what the result will be … and how it will precisely be received by the audience."
And what did they audience think? “Besides magnificent?” says Dick Andren, a former Philadelphian and subscriber who now lives in Maine, but managed to make it to Thursday’s performance. “It was awe-inspiring.”
“I wanted to hear Tan Dun,” says Margot Savoy of Media, PA, who says she attends a Philadelphia Orchestra concert once a year—usually for Handel’s Messiah. She brought a friend from out of town, who was hearing the Orchestra for the first time. “I didn’t know what to expect,” said Pete Ying from Dallas. “It’s the first time for me in this hall. First time for me listening to this Orchestra live.” His verdict: “I loved it. It was fantastic.”
The new pieces were paired with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances—another piece composed for The Philadelphia Orchestra and given its world premiere by the ensemble in 1941. (Tan Dun joked that, appropriately for Halloween, Rachmaninoff’s spirit was alive and well in Verizon Hall Thursday night.) Seventy years later, that work—of course, also considered “new music” when it premiered—is now billed as “one of the most cherished works of the 20th century.”
“New music has its place, of course. That’s a given,” says Nézet-Séguin. “But I strongly believe it’s all a question of context.”
The Philadelphia Orchestra will give repeat performances of David Ludwig’s Pictures from the Floating World for bassoon and orchestra, featuring Principal Bassoon Daniel Matsukawa; Behzad Ranjbaran’s Flute Concerto, featuring Principal Flute Jeffrey Khaner; and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances on Saturday, November 2, at 8 PM. For tickets click HERE.