Seahawks fans may have broken the Guinness World Record for the loudest stadium Sunday — but inside Benaroya Hall the same evening, it sounded as if Seattle Symphony fans were also going for a world ovation record. When pianist Lang Lang tossed off the final bravura cascade of notes in the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, the audience erupted in a stadium-sized ovation punctuated by roars of approval.
It was a suitably gala conclusion to the Symphony’s Opening Night Gala concert, a season-launcher that changed formats this year: an afternoon concert, followed (for guests who also bought the post-concert dinner tickets) by a short trek from Benaroya Hall to the Fairmont Olympic Hotel for further festivities.
The concert program got off to a different start, too: Music director Ludovic Morlot led the Seattle Symphony Chorale (sans orchestra) in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Following that was what you might term the traditional gala concert format: a series of short musical bonbons, some well-chosen remarks from Morlot and symphony-board chair Leslie Chihuly, and a spectacular soloist.
The Slavic-accented, dance-centric bonbons (two of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, three of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, plus the Toccata of Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov) demonstrated the orchestra is opening the season in a state of fairly robust health. Morlot and his players demonstrated rapport and spirit in these colorful works, with associate conductor Stilian Kirov taking over for the Vladigerov. The chorale, prepared by Joseph Crnko, sounded overpowering and occasionally a bit unsteady in the Borodin.
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Lang Lang, one of today’s most sought-after soloists, was the big draw of the afternoon, and he gave an account of the Prokofiev Third that pushed hard against the boundaries of what is technically possible to achieve on the piano: playing of almost unbelievable speed and prowess, overlaid with a showmanship that may be unequaled in the piano world.
It was a performance of huge contrasts: whisper-soft passages and violent attacks that singled out a note or a chord for particular emphasis. This may not have been exactly what Prokofiev had in mind, but for this listener, the level of sheer headlong virtuosity was thrilling to hear.
Lang Lang is the king of the showy gesture, the swooping and soaring hands, and the kind of piano-bench choreography that expresses his approach to the music. Some may dislike this kind of showmanship; most are thrilled by it. That latter group was clearly ascendant Sunday.
The ovation that followed the Prokofiev concerto was met by a lone encore, a considerably more dulcet account of Chopin’s E-Flat Major Nocturne (Op. 55, No. 2).
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING-FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.