Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall, October 26th 2013
Few conductors are flying as high at the moment as Marin Alsop. Having recently been the first female conductor to conduct the last night of the BBC Proms, she’s quickly become a woman in demand. Arriving in to the National Concert Hall alongside the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, quite a crowd was drawn out to pay homage to the world’s new queen of conducting.
Opening with a piece commissioned by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Assad’s Terra Brasilis, the orchestra show off their versatility from the first moments of the evening. With a huge range of influences and soundscapes, they tackle a piece which depicts Brazil through its use of the national anthem, going on to put it through many effects and influences. Alsop leads them all with great precision, blending each section extremely well. The piece proves quite an opener, grabbing attention with its big range of sounds, all of which the orchestra handle with a professional and artistic ease.
Moving into Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, the extreme versatility of this orchestra is highlighted once again. Compiled of a collection of parts, this work showcases the ups and downs (of which, those who have seen the musical will know, there are many) and gathers together some of the main themes from one of Bernstein’s best loved musicals. This mixture of emotions, themes and ideas is not an easy one to pull off well. However, under the baton of Alsop, the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra manage to do it with the utmost respect for each theme and idea, with none getting lost in the overall drama of the work. The Cha-Cha is vivacious, and infectiously upbeat, and moves seamlessly into Meeting, the most sweet and tender moment of the work. Rumble provides most of the drama, being huge, brash and loud, but winds down into the wonderful Finale, letting the piece end on just a whisper of the love experienced throughout the story.
Mahler’s Symphony No.1 in D major follows. The restrained nature of the first movement, Langsam, is handled well by Alsop and the orchestra, as the work slowly awakens through its first section. The third movement Feierlich und gemessen depicts the funeral of a hunter, at which the animals are mourners. This is brought forth solemnly, without dragging, and the Frére Jaques-esque theme is delicately brought to the fore. The fourth and final movement, Stürmisch bewegt, is an explosive finale. The power of the storm is depicted in a huge piece, brimming with the raw energy of mother nature at her most ferocious. This ferocity is dealt with in a most dramatic, but always controlled way by the orchestra, with Alsop remaining the composed figure at the helm of this musical ship.
Between these three works, the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra have displayed immense ability, control and charm, and under the baton of Alsop, these qualities are very much at the fore of this evening’s performance. A wonderful orchestra, with a wonderful conductor, in a wonderful setting – is there anything else you could possibly desire?