Gemma New at the Blossom Music Center, Summer home of The Cleveland Orchestra (Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni, Courtesy of The Cleveland Orchestra)
Substitute conductor pulls off revelatory evening with Cleveland Orchestra
By Mark Satola
Cleveland Plain Dealer
July 29th, 2019
CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Many’s the time that a last-minute replacement for an indisposed conductor resulted in a revelatory Cleveland Orchestra experience. Saturday night at the Blossom Music Center was one of those occasions.
The very popular Bramwell Tovey, sidelined by illness, was replaced by Gemma New, a New Zealand native. New is music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic in Ontario, and is resident conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She’s not exactly well known in the greater U.S., but if her work Saturday is any indication, she’s a conductor whose renown is sure to grow.
There was one program change — the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes” were replaced by Sibelius’ sturdy warhorse “Finlandia”. Any tendency among the jaded in the audience to mutter “Oh, that old thing,” was quickly dispelled by New’s reading of the score, which underlined the profound drama of Sibelius’ patriotic ode to his native land.
The opening bars, taken more slowly than usual, were taut and dark, and the sudden eruption into whirlwind allegro was therefore even more electrifying. The grand peroration of the chorale rang nobly under New’s sure leadership.
New’s podium technique bears mention here. She conducts with extremely wide, varied and communicative gestures, employing the full arm from hand to shoulder, and stirs a good measure of body English into the mix. The effect, however, is anything but gratuitous. New’s style is vital to the transmission of her vibrant conceptions.
The evening’s guest artist was cellist Gautier Capucon (younger brother of the violinist Renaud Capucon), who played another well-known piece: the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Saint-Saens.
Fleet of fingers and sturdy of bow, Capucon threw himself fully into the intense Romanticism of Saint-Saens’ tightly organized work. In the outer sections, he brought a combination of drama and ardor, while in the delicate and toy-like Allegretto, he was whisper-light and finely controlled.
As an encore, Capucon played an ingenious arrangement of Faure’s song “Apres un reve,” with accompaniment from four cellos.
The evening was actually a double concert, the first part of which highlighted the Kent Blossom Chamber Orchestra. Under the baton of Vinay Parameswaran, assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, the Kent Blossom players gave first-rate performances of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture and a five-movement suite fro Ravel’s ballet “Mother Goose.” The Mendelssohn was particularly exciting, thanks to the conductor’s vigorous reading.
The Kent Blossom players joined the Cleveland Orchestra for the last work on the program, Elgar’s masterful “Enigma” Variations.
With so many players on stage (close to 150), the sound was grand, and at times it overwhelmed Elgar’s careful orchestration, especially in the score’s boisterous passages. Where the extra players were an advantage were in some of the more thoughtful variations, especially the profound “Nimrod” variation, which is the emotional heart of “Enigma.”
New is to be commended for keeping this extra-large ensemble under tight control and firmly harnessed to her vivid interpretation of Elgar’s masterpiece. One hopes her return to the Cleveland Orchestra is not far off.
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