New York Phil opens 8th season at Bravo! in Vail | VailDaily.com

New York Phil opens 8th season at Bravo! in Vail

Chris Lee | Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado – The New York Philharmonic, led by Alan Gilbert, made its return to the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, starting its eighth residency in triumphant fashion, performing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto and Sibelius’s’ Second Symphony in front of a packed audience at the Ford Amphitheater Friday night.

After a brisk rendition of the national anthem – customary for an orchestra opening a season or residency – pianist Jonathan Biss joined the Philharmonic for the Beethoven. Bravo! artistic director Eugenia Zukerman remarked before the concert that Biss was performing his last concerto with a major orchestra during his 20s – he turns 30 Sept. 18.

Biss capped this decade well. Specializing in early Romantic composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann, Biss took command of the Fourth in the opening allegro with the first keystrokes – the work is unique in the world of concerti as the soloist starts the piece instead of the orchestra.

Biss used his familiarity with the piece to improvise passages throughout the three-movement composition, especially in cadenzas. While Biss and the New York Philharmonic only had one rehearsal to prepare for Friday night’s performance, their rapport from numerous previous concerts at Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York was much in evidence.

After a lengthy break to allow latecomers to get settled – Friday’s concert’s drew a crowd only rivaled during this year’s festival by the opener featuring celloist Yo-Yo Ma’s recital in June – Biss, Gilbert and the Philharmonic continued with the final two movements without interruption.

Biss bandied about the theme playfully with the Philharmonic which deftly gave him space for his virtuosity. As they competed the final rondo, the final movement of the concerto, the audience burst into a standing ovation, calling out Biss two times before intermission.

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Gilbert and the Philharmonic took center stage with Sibelius’s Second Symphony, likely the Finn’s most-performed symphonic work. The symphony gave the Philharmonic’s wind and crass sections an opportunity to shine, despite The New York Times’ protestations to the contrary earlier this season in concerts back in Manhattan.

Gilbert guided the Philharmonic and the audience through Sibelius’ myriad of emotions, ending on a triumphant note with the work’s opening motif back in full display.

Gilbert and the Philharmonic delighted the audience with an encore, Beethoven’s “Overture to Egmont.” The opening chords of the piece served as intelligent transition from the Sibelius and as a palate cleanser for the evening.

The selection of the Egmont Overture was interesting in several ways. Overtures usually open a program. That said, Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic have used the piece both ways this season. They played the Egmont during the orchestra’s first visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, to start their concerts there. They also played the piece as an encore in Paris later in the season.

The New York Philharmonic continues its residency tonight with a slate of German work. The Philharmonic starts the concert with Mozart’s 25th Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. After intermission, it’s Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Wagner’s Prelude and “Liebestod” from Tristan and Isolde.

Staff writer Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.