The Mann, the Ninth, the listeners: Perfect night

Posted: June 28, 2007

Scenes from a Beethoven Symphony No. 9 concert:

Three picnic diners on a far strip of lawn with a miniature white picket fence set up around their blanket.

A father with one arm around his son and a globe of red wine in hand as fireflies alight during the bouncy second movement.

And the paradoxical sensation of a crowd of perhaps 6,000 - or more - caught in the act of being completely quiet, their attention focused by the pastoral third movement's middle section of economical wind sonorities and gentle pizzicatos.

Rarely has the Philadelphia Orchestra's season at Fairmount Park opened with the Mann Center for the Performing Arts' lawns as thickly populated as they were for this concert. And if there's a night in the last dozen or so years that so perfectly married repertoire, site and audience, I can't remember it. Classical music without a future? Please don't tell the many children in Tuesday's audience.

On paper, yet another Beethoven 9 might have looked less than compelling. But Rossen Milanov's shaping of phrasing and tempos sounded inevitable, and the orchestra playing was solid. The third movement was a gorgeous reminder that there is no such thing as hearing this piece enough.

The Philadelphia Singers Chorale, coached by their music director, David Hayes, came through strong despite their placement far back on the deep stage. I could not hear a lot of detail from the soloists - soprano Ariana Zukerman, mezzo Jennifer Hines, tenor Steven Tharp, and baritone Stephen Powell - though they seemed to function well as a tight unit.

Milanov - now the Mann's artistic director, while its one-time personification, Charles Dutoit, is graduating to the new orchestra post of chief conductor - opened the concert with Jennifer Higdon's likeable Concerto for Orchestra. At its best, the piece conveys motion and adventure with a subtext of optimism, exploring individual instrumental sections in a way that doesn't make the spotlighting sound contrived.

The most original section might be the one devoted to percussion - not so much for its technique (eerie bowed vibraphone has been used before), but for its total creepiness. If a ghost kept a music box it would sound like this. M. Night Shyamalan, take note. The composer for your next film score is right here.

Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or

Next Philadelphia Orchestra concert at the Mann Center: Tonight at 8, Ludovic Morlot leads a program of Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saƫns with cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Tickets are $10-$50. Information: 215-893-1999 or

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