Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, subbing for an injured Ludovic Morlot, brings charisma and intensity.
It’s an administrator’s nightmare: the grand opening of a concert season, and no conductor.
When Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot sustained a leg injury that would keep him off the podium for the opening-night concert and the orchestra’s first subscription program, few could have suspected how successfully this emergency was overcome. Last weekend’s performance went off beautifully under the baton of the orchestra’s associate conductor, Pablo Rus Broseta.
And Thursday night’s subscription season opener was saved by Giancarlo Guerrero, a five-time Grammy winner whose charismatic conducting and attention to detail brought to life the Mahler “Resurrection” Symphony in a performance that drew sustained cheers from the audience. (The Costa Rican-born Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony, also will conduct the repeat performances on Sept. 23 and 24.)
With Giancarlo Guerrero conducting, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) and Berlioz’s “The Death of Cleopatra.” Repeated at 8 p.m. Sept. 23, and 2 p.m. Sept. 24, Benaroya Hall; from $22 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
Vigorously cuing the orchestra with incisive and emphatic gestures, Guerrero left no doubt about the depth of his acquaintance with the Mahler. He commanded great intensity (and often great volume) from the orchestra, particularly in the apocalyptic first movement, but was equally adept in creating an atmosphere of gentle warmth in the second and encouraging jaunty woodwind passages in the third. Tricky tempo changes, offstage ensembles and precise entrances all were managed so smoothly that it was hard to believe the conductor and the players had only just met.
The Mahler is crammed with spectacular orchestral solos from the leaders of nearly every section, far too many of them to credit here, but all of them remarkably good. A hearty “welcome back” to flutist Demarre McGill, whose playing was downright magical.
The opening work on this program, Berlioz’s “The Death of Cleopatra,” is a comparative rarity — and a work that demands alacrity, power and lyricism from the mezzo-soprano who portrays the suicidal Cleopatra. Christianne Stotijn proved a remarkable and intelligent soloist, easily handling the wide vocal range and illuminating Cleopatra’s angry passion. She returned in the Mahler for the beautiful solo passages of the fourth movement, and was later joined by soprano soloist Malin Christensson and the Seattle Symphony Chorale for the sublime finale of the “Resurrection” Symphony.
Listening to the choral and solo voices rise with the full orchestra, all underlain by the hall’s mighty Watjen Concert Organ, was a peak experience for any music lover — well worth the enthusiastic ovation. Catch this inspiring program if you can.