Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 40
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

Advertise in Town Topics

Iris Interiors

Advertise in Town Topics

Weather Forecast


Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s 30th Season Opens With Wunderkind Pianist George Li

Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra has a new Music Director for its 30th anniversary year, but with incoming conductor Rossen Milanov’s schedule booked ahead, the Symphony has invited guest conductors for its first two concerts. Sunday afternoon’s program in Richardson Auditorium brought Boston conductor Benjamin Zander to Princeton for a lecture and performance which foreshadows Milanov’s concept of the “total concert experience.” Mr. Zander has been conductor of the Boston Philharmonic for more than thirty years, has led the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra for thirty-eight years, and is known for entertaining and informative lectures on music. Mr. Zander preceded Princeton Symphony’s presentation of Camille Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with a lecture the day before. From all accounts, the lecture gave audience members unique insight into these pieces, each of which challenged Princeton Symphony to play with precision and clarity.

For a featured soloist in the Saint-Saens piano concerto, Princeton Symphony reached into the world of young prodigies. Fourteen-year-old George Li lives in Lexington, Massachusetts and studies piano at the New England Conservatory. He has performed as soloist with a number of orchestras and won numerous prizes, and his performance of this intricate 19th century concerto set him apart as a very polished and poised musician.

Mr. Li began the concerto’s first movement with a very dramatic and deliberate opening matched by the orchestra. Saint-Saens wrote this piece for Anton Rubenstein (with a heavy influence of the virtuostic Franz Liszt) and the fact that a fourteen-year-old could even begin to keep up with the technical demands of the concerto was truly remarkable. Mr. Li demonstrated solid virtuosity at the keyboard, playing like Horowitz when his hands are not even supposed to be fully grown. His right hand glided over the keys with strength in his arm and he handled the many musical shifts well.

The orchestra’s next concert will be November 1. Conducting will be David Alan Miller, and the concert will include music of John Harbison and Johannes Brahms, and will feature flutist Jayn Rosenfeld. For information call (609) 258-5000.

The third movement Presto included at least thirty sets of triplet trills moving up and down the keyboard and Mr. Li gave each trill direction. In watching this young artist, what was heard in the hall somewhat differed from the visual effect of him playing the piano, as if he were hiding two other hands somewhere that were also playing. Mr. Li kept his audience riveted to the stage, and in an appealing show of youthful confidence, played two encores for solo piano (Chopin’s C# minor Nocturne and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebees) as if the concert had turned into his own private recital. Despite the prospect of a monumental Mahler symphony for the second half, the sold-out audience at Richardson could no doubt have listened to George Li for a couple of more hours.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major is not quite as dark as some of the works he is more known for, and Mr. Zander and the orchestra began the first movement Moderato with a very light and Viennese style. This symphony is a study in Mahler’s interest in creating unusual combinations of instruments, and because of its chamber nature, there is little room for error from the instruments. Clarity in playing is essential, and the members of the Princeton Symphony had this well in hand. Oboist Carolyn Park and bassoonist Roe Goodman provided a playful duet (Ms. Park had a number of other fine solos within the symphony) and English horn player Keisuke Ikuma had a sublime moment accompanied by strings. This being Mahler, there was the occasional quirkiness, such as the piercing trio of flutes and wailing oboes and clarinets.

Mahler symphonies are broad palettes of orchestral color, and Mr. Zander worked hard to maintain variety in the music throughout the extended movements. He kept tempos and conducting gestures very steady, paying particular attention to dynamic details. The audience could easily enjoy following the motives around the orchestra as Mahler repeatedly recombined instrumentation. The second movement was marked with the unusual touch of the first violinist (in this case Basia Danilow) switching instruments to a second violin tuned differently to depict the fiddling of Brother Death.

Also as with other Mahler works, a solo human voice is interpolated into the texture. Soprano Sarah Pelletier had a long sit until the fourth movement of this work, and captured well the spirit of the text and the lightness of the movement. The text, from Mahler’s previous Das Knaben Wunderhorn, is focused on a child’s perception of heaven, and Ms. Pelletier achieved this effect by keeping some of the higher register a little bit straighter in tone.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra is beginning a new era in its history, and particularly with the emphasis on the concert experience extending outside the concert hall, this era is primed to draw a new audience to the orchestra. Mr. Zander gave the ensemble a good start to what should settle in to be an enjoyable season.

Return to Top | Go to All in a Day’s Work

Town Topics® may be purchased on Wednesday mornings at the following locations: Princeton — McCaffrey’s, Cox’s, Kiosk (Palmer Square), Krauszer’s (State Road), Olives, Speedy Mart (State Road), Wawa (University Place); Hopewell — Village Express; Rocky Hill — Wawa (Route 518); Pennington — Pennington Market.
Copyright© Town Topics®, Inc. 2011.