If notes on staves were New Year’s greetings, the Philadelphia Orchestra sailed a sheaf full of good wishes out into Verizon Hall Monday night. At what he told a sold-out crowd was “the biggest party in town,” Yannick Nézet-Séguin led a program that, Janus-like, glanced back at a year of “great moments and maybe not so great moments,” but looked forward, too.
Everyone knew what he meant. Never uttered was the word “bankruptcy,” but by forming a first half of the program with Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony and music from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, the orchestra’s music director put sound to his aspirations, and, hopefully, the city’s as well. Goodbye to talk of lawsuits and weighing the orchestra as a going concern, and hello to a silvery bloom. The suite from Strauss’ opera suggests nostalgia, but, more than that, it is gilded with the possibilities of transformation.
Comedy broke out in the Haydn. The composer choreographed the piece as a way of telling his patron that the musicians needed a break, but the Philadelphians added their own gestures as each finished his or her part and exited the stage even while the music continued. Some embraced, while one – perhaps in a gentle rebuke of audience etiquette breaches over the years – pantomimed a cell phone call. Nézet-Séguin left before his last two players, which had the audience in stitches and kept the last wisps of the piece from being heard.
Rather than a silver rose, Nézet-Séguin dropped a bright yellow gerbera daisy in the middle of the stage before taking the podium for the second half. A dancer picked it up, and from it formed a narrative with others (associated with Mark Stuart Dance Theatre) who danced to Johann Strauss Jr.’s Blue Danube Waltz. The brief next few pieces (Brahms, Shostakovich, Satie, Falla) alternated choreography with orchestra alone. If Danskins and Capezios occasionally took the spotlight from Amatis and Strads, such moments were brief. The orchestra this season is adding visual elements to the aural – the ensemble twice accompanied film earlier in the season – but so far has managed a respectable balance. It’s important to remember that Stokowski, Ormandy - and, yes, Sawallisch – also drew extras into the concert experience.
Should old acquaintance be forgot? It’s been a tough year, but the orchestra left each listener to interpret the question as it played Auld Lang Syne, the tune stirring many in the audience to sing, while the woman behind me quietly wept.