The much-anticipated 2014-2015 season-opening concert of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra featured the first of the five international music director finalists for the ensemble. A stunning artistic presence and a dynamic leader, Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra led a stellar reading of Mahler’s colossus for large orchestra, Symphony No. 1, ‘Titan.’
The concert opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, ‘Paris.’ De la Parra adopted an exacting conducting style for the piece, her arms rigidly delineating the contours of the music, which highlighted the angular shape of Mozart’s classicism.
In the first movement, the subtle ebb and flow of the strings as the themes progressed along the outline of the structure was achieved to great effect, and accentuated by precise timpani.
The tempo relaxes in the second movement, which was the most poignant moment of the first half of the program. Interspersed with strings, hushed woodwinds – flute, oboe and clarinet – glow softly over a mellow French horn, the conductor controlling their dynamics in wonderful serenity.
A token of the conductor’s home country, Arturo Marquez’ ‘Danzon No. 2’ is a riotous dance that amalgamates different styles – such as the Cuban son and danzon – over a syncopated rhythm on the claves (percussion), serving as the backbone for the whole piece. Over this rhythm, clarinet and oboe present the opening material. The swell of the strings, with trombones and trumpets swaying to the dance rhythm, was a spectacular moment.
The rhythm section included the guiro, which added to the Latin American flavor of the piece. A phenomenal trumpet solo toward the end, over lively percussion and barbed strings, took the Orlando Phil to swinging heights, led by a very animated, energetic and emphatic de la Parra.
The conductor thinks of Mahler as a cinematographer of sorts; the Austrian composer allowed his music to breathe over long stretches of time, developing his material into grand statements. The first movement of the ‘Titan’ symphony foreshadows the bold sections to come, just like the finale harks back to the opening material. These details were achieved through de la Parra’s unique insight, resulting in a fresh reading of the piece, captivating and powerful.
De la Parra’s style was evidently and necessarily different for the evening’s highlight, especially compared to the Mozart. With sprawling arms gestures, she aroused hefty and booming string swells – violins I and II were cleverly positioned on either side of the stage, with cellos and violas in between – and with violent torso jolts she signaled the forte outbursts of the climactic sections of movements one and four.
The beginning of the symphony conjures a feeling akin to the ethereal, cosmic introduction in open fifths of Beethoven’s Ninth, “as if you were just starting to hear the Universe breathe,” says de la Parra. From a single pitch that stretches over several octaves, Mahler introduces the sounds of the world in hushed woodwinds, though a tad louder than ideal in this performance.
Details that the Orlando Phil never fails to pay attention to included offstage brass calls in the first movement, and augmented percussion. Two timpani sets, bass drum, triangle and cymbals, among others, contribute magnificently to the cinematic sound world of Mahler.
In the second movement, de la Parra envisions “a boat that heavily rocks from side to side,” or “the cheering and banging of beer glasses in a pub.” She brought such images to life in this landler, an Austrian country dance in 3/4, with booming strings and cheerful winds.
The third movement captured the dreadful minor-key version of Frere Jacques, with a single double bass at the top of its register, followed by a frightening tuba. The most touching achievement in this movement was the almost elusive ritardando that precedes the contrasting klezmer sections, led by soft brass, and then accompanied by strings. A gorgeous moment of the whole concert. The return of the twisted Frere Jacques theme, this time faster and in a different key, was also accomplished very well.
An emphatic de la Parra squeezed every ounce of energy during the loudest sections of the fascinating finale, culminating in terrifying orchestral bliss, with pungent trombone glissandos, crescendo timpani rolls, piccolo shrills, incessant triangle and shattering cymbal splashes.
Alondra de la Parra, only 33, exerts superb command over the orchestra, and radiates with talent and charisma. She has certainly set the bar high for the Orlando Phil’s music finalist series. Her game’s hard to top.
To learn all about upcoming Orlando Philharmonic concerts, including those led by the remaining four music director finalists, click here.
For recent Orlando Philharmonic concert reviews, click here.
To visit Alondra de la Parra’s website, click here.