I was pleased to hear Joseph Young — the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s assistant conductor and the director of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra — conduct an excellent program of music this evening with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I think that this may have been the first time that I have had the chance to see him live to really hear what he can do and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Prior to the program’s start, a few words were (stiffly) mentioned by executive director Barlament in memoriam to Jane Little, the assistant principal bass emeritus who passed away suddenly last weekend. Young took the podium to conduct a very tender performance of Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations in her honor, at the conclusion of which all of the lights in the auditorium and on stage were faded to black save for a single shaft of light illuminating her empty chair with a rose on it. It was a very moving tribute to an impressive person, though I wish that Barlament had followed tradition and asked that the audience not applaud. Even though the performance deserved respect, silence in memory of the deceased feels more appropriate.
The scheduled program opened with Haydn’s Symphony no 46 in B Major. It is a bright and brisk piece that is full of the cleverness for which Haydn is known and no small amount of tension along the way. I and several of the people around me chuckled here and there, especially in the fourth movement with the sudden break and intrusion of the end of the previous movement minuet. Young brought each and every bit of the liveliness and charm out of the score that he could find and the musicians played it well.
The concerto for the evening was similarly well conducted. Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra no 10 in E-Flat Major was played with a charming sense of enjoyment by sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton. Their easy and playful passing of themes and phrases between each other belied a familiarity with the piece as well as exceptional talent. As an encore, the two played a very rousing, if somewhat out of place for this program, piece for four hands by Paul Schoenfield called Boogie. It was fast and jazzy, with a driving rhythm and lots of loud wow and quite incredible. It was a strange contrast to the bright classical period pieces of the first part of the program, but it certainly pleased the crowd, myself included.
The final piece for the evening was an amalgamation of excerpts from the first two of the three Romeo and Juliet suites by Prokofiev. It began with the first two movements of suite no 2, followed by the fourth through seventh of suite no. 1, back to suite no 2, with its sixth and seventh movements, and finally Juliet’s Death taken from the ballet score. The menacing opening chords grabbed our ears as Young, heavy on the drama, took us on an emotional rollercoaster through one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies. You could easily tell that a lot of people in the audience (myself included) felt chills at certain particularly dramatic points.
That said, I felt that he often took certain up-tempo parts a bit too fast and down-tempo bits too slowly. I recall how the tempos from Macelaru’s interpretation of Stravinsky’s Petrushka from earlier in the season weren’t quite right for dancing but worked very well for a purely orchestral reading, but I think that Young would have done better to keep more in line with tempos that would work with a dance performance for this piece. He never failed to wring every bit of emotion from each musical phrase, but I think that it could have been a much stronger reading if the tempos were a little more tame.
All in all, though, it was a very effective performance of the work. I have to say that I’m pleased with Young’s conducting — handling Elgar, Haydn, Mozart, and Prokofiev all in one concert as well as he did is pretty impressive. I’m really looking forward to hearing him again next season, too: I think that Dvorak’s Symphony no 9 is going to be quite the exciting adventure under his baton.
Edited to add name of piece played in encore