ASO: Emmanuel Villaume with Andrew von Oeyen

Emmanuel Villaume’s conducting style as he lead the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra last night seemed to be heavily influenced by Tai Chi and he complemented his hand signals with very loud breath cues. I thought it was really annoying and found him more distracting than any coughing or whispering or seat kicking that I heard the entire evening. It was enough that I’m not likely to give him another shot if he’s programmed again in the future.

That said, he did do a good job with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, with a very warm and sensitive approach to the music. I’m not terribly fond of the piece, though. Like most Wagner, it starts off decently enough with a sweet and soft melody and then it starts to crescendo, as though proclaiming “SEE HOW SWEET I AM? THAT MUSIC YOU WERE LISTENING TO, IT WAS SWEET. I’M SO SWEET!” And it just keeps doing this for about twice as long as the work really needed to last: some really nice music and then a crescendo screaming at you that what you just heard was sweet, heroically sweet, child-like playfully sweet, as though you just could not possibly have understood what the composer was going for if he didn’t slap you across the face with what he meant by it. The core philosophy behind Wagner’s music seems to be that if something is worth saying then it’s worth shouting it three times to make sure everyone gets it. At least Villaume did a good job with it, though.

The Liszt that followed wasn’t quite so well played. Villaume seemed to be stuck in Wagner mode as he lead the orchestra in the first piano concerto and the dynamics of each section didn’t quite meld together to create a sonorous whole, sometimes even sounding a bit cacophonous. I didn’t feel that soloist Andrew von Oeyen ever really managed to meld well with the orchestra, either. Plus he was often a bit heavy on the sustain pedal and his fidgety left foot could occasionally be heard hitting or scraping the stage if one was sitting close enough to the stage. Setting aside his feet, though, his giant hands handled the difficult parts very well.

Villaum’s performance in the Saint-Saëns Symphony no. 3 was merely ok. The dynamics of each section of the orchestra still didn’t quite seem to balance out the way I’d want, but it’s a good enough piece of music that even a merely ok performance is still pretty enjoyable; especially with that intense endings. It’s hard to not be excited by the conclusion of the piece with an ending like that that practically demands a standing ovation regardless of how well the rest of the piece was played.

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