I knew going in that the concert program for the Orchestre Symphonique Montreal was aggressive. Aggressive as in Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 and The Rite of Spring on the same night. The Montréalaises are on tour and this concert suggested that they’ve found a groove.
Washington Performing Arts presents the Montreal Symphony
Kent Nagano, conductor; Daniil Trifonov, piano
The concert was produced by the La Jolla Music Society and was held on Wednesday night, March 23, at Symphony Hall.
Orchestre Symphonique Montreal might not have the immediate name recognition of an orchestra such as the Royal Concertgebouw, the Vienna Philharmonic, or the Berlin Philharmonic, but it is in that class of orchestra — the world class.
When looking at the program of Debussy Jeux, Prokofiev, and then Stravinsky, it struck me that this wasn’t a traditional approach to programing. All three are 20th-century composers. That’s probably why I felt as though this was an aggressive set of pieces.
Understand, I like aggressive. I like that there was no “balancing” piece of music such as a Mozart concerto.
Having found a video of Orchestre Symphonique Montreal conductor Kent Nagano explaining the programing choices, I think I’ve been convinced. Maestro Nagano clarified that all three pieces are indeed from the same time period.
Daniil Trifonov: Prokofiev 3, 3rd movement
San Marino Piano Competition 2008
According to Nagano, the composers all have a connection to Paris before the Great War. Orchestre Symphonique Montreal has the reputation of being a great French orchestra and these selections played right into that perception.
During Debussy’s Jeux I felt as though I might not want to hear it performed live by a lesser orchestra. Orchestre Symphonique Montreal recorded this piece for London/Decca when Charles Dutoit was their conductor.
Daniil Trifonov has performed Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 on a regular basis with artists such as Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra. I’m going to re-iterate that Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique Montreal are in the same league as Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra.
When the audience leapt to its feet at the conclusion I expected EMT’s to come out and perform triage on Trifonov’s friction-burnt finger tips. I guess he was okay, though, because he bowed and smiled and saluted the orchestra and played an encore by Tchaikovsky.
On the other side of the intermission the leviathan was waiting for us. A live experience of The Rite of Spring is always special. This one was a little more than special. Okay, it was a lot more than special.
From start to finish my response was a constant stream of, “That could not have possibly happened.” Pagan urges began to stir in the audience. The facade of civilization was in doubt.
I was considering the ramifications of ripping my shirt off and chewing on the arms of strangers. I felt the “barbaric yawp” yearning to sound itself “over the rooftops of the world” (Walt Whitman).
“Down, boy, down,” I whispered to myself, “it will be over soon.”
There was a full moon that night and it was within days of the spring equinox. Anything could have happened.
Alas, nothing out of the ordinary occurred. I’ve been domesticated.
The orchestra played Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun as an encore. I needed to have a lazy summer afternoon after the rigors of Stravinsky's Russian spring. A further encore from Bizet's L'Arlésienne followed.