The Philadelphia Orchestra's Tchaikovsky Spectacular at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts is a good summer event for all concerned: A full house is guaranteed and the program, while popular, still shows off what the orchestra does best. The concert was led Wednesday by young, elegant, in-demand guest conductor Vasily Petrenko, whose Russian nationality gives him an authority in this repertoire that was apparent even amid the
's cannon fire (more on that later).
With associate conductor Rossen Milanov departing, Petrenko would be an interesting regular presence at the Mann. So you wanted to pull him aside afterward and say that audiences here aren't usually milling in and out during the concert. The toddler contingent isn't always so high. Significant musical experiences can happen there.
As it was, people there for the fireworks seemed unsure of what all the rest was about - though "all the rest" included performance of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, Violin Concerto, and suite from The Sleeping Beauty ballet that disproved my theory that one-rehearsal concerts are, at best, highly professional run-throughs rather than distinctive artistic statements.
The orchestra could have played the concert in its sleep but most definitely did not. Romeo and Juliet is more of a tone poem than an overture, at least in Petrenko's hands, with contrasting groups of themes competing eloquently for dominance. Petrenko's apprenticeship was at the St. Petersburg State Opera and Ballet, so the Sleeping Beauty maintained a strong sense of dance infused with dramatic importance. Suites can be difficult to pace because they're excerpts from a larger work with its own peaks and valleys. Not with Petrenko, who knows how to do grandeur without grandiosity.
Thanks to the Mann's relationship with the Curtis Institute, promising students take the concerto slots here, though in the Violin Concerto, Nadir Khashimov, born in 1990, made you wonder if it's such a good idea. He unquestionably has much to offer the concerto, but you didn't know that until the second movement. In the all-important first, his technique felt leathery, with a stiffness that impeded the lyricism; hints of discomfort were heard in sections that were more busy and declamatory. Thereafter, technical pressures are less acute, and Khashimov, fully present, took you to its core. As an encore, he played some finger-testing Paganini caprices, as if to say, "I really can play this violin."
The 1812 Overture never wears out its welcome, especially when a conductor like Petrenko is on hand to give authentic inflections to its more Russian passages. But the cannon fire really has to go: It is so loud that the music around it sounds anemic and trivial.