As concertgoers funneled out of Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night, a middle-aged couple kissed passionately on the first-tier balcony, earning hoots of approval from below. Earlier in the evening, a seemingly inebriated mink-wrapped woman sitting next to The Observer spoke to her husband at full-volume before unceremoniously slumping asleep in her plush seat.
Perhaps something had been slipped into the wine served at the preceding gala dinner, or perhaps the audience was simply overstimulated from the evening’s orchestral excitement. Whatever the cause, the classical crowd was in strange form, which only served to highlight the magnificence of the Lincoln Center’s “Great Performers” concert that took place.
As the members of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra stormed the stage, an older woman in front of us clapped in slow motion, her hands extended over her head, picking up the pace as Met maestro of the moment, Signore Fabio Luisi, made his entrance. Greeting the audience with a smile, the 52-year-old planted himself curtly on the podium, his greying hair neatly combed and his round spectacles perfectly adjusted.
Mr. Luisi, besides looking the part of distinguished conductor (and long lost twin of Roberto Benigni), gave the impression that we, the audience, were in for a flawless performance, a confidence buffeted by his newly-acquired title as principal conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. Strangely omnipresent, he is also the chief conductor of the fine-tuned Vienna Symphony, which he led through a nearly flawless performance of Beethoven’s Concerto for violin, cello, and piano in C major, as well as Brahms’ joyful Symphony No. 2.
Beethoven’s “triple concerto,” as it’s often called, places not one, but three instruments in the spotlight, and shining center stage was the Grammy Award-winning Eroica trio, three talented belles reminiscent of Charlie’s Angels in their ethereally shimmering gowns. Cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio connected with the audience immediately, smiling at the crowd as the orchestra behind her played the first bars of the piece.
Wearing her heart on her sleeve, or twinkling white gown, as the case may be, Ms. Sant’Ambrosio showed her virtuosity on the cello, it’s wooden frame only slightly smaller than her own. Beginning the second movement, her strokes soared over the crowd, her face expressing each tremolo as if it were the most heartfelt of sentiments.
Violinist Susie Park guided her instrument to sonorous success, particularly during the rondo alla piccola, while pianist Erika Nickrenz’s quick runs demonstrated her mastery of the ivories. The trio returned after much applause to offer “a little dessert before intermission” as Ms. Sant’Ambrosio put it, before playing the Piazzola’s sensuous Oblivion tango.
After a brief intermission, the orchestra and the bespectacled Mr. Luisi returned to perform Brahms’ Second Symphony, rendering it so viscerally sumptuous that one wanted to bite into it–an orchestral Sacher torte.
Mr. Luisi was able to draw a depth of expression out of the orchestra that permeated the hall and hung over the audience like a gentle cloud of sound. The first movement brought to mind a bucolic setting, a sunny pasture, illuminated by a soaring motif that an audience member hummed comfortingly from the row behind us. Mr. Luisi brought the beautiful composition to life, taking the orchestra to almost unimaginable pianos before cuing the entrance of rumbling timpani, much like an approaching thunderstorm in Brahms’ musical landscape.
Although we would have been content just to listen, watching Mr. Luisi on stage is a delight. He gets what he wants from the orchestra while saving his energy for the most magnanimous of fortes, leaping across the podium with a smile on his face, drawing incredible strength from the orchestra with a complex sweep of his arms. Such moments, particularly in the final movement, even caused the floorboards underneath our feet to reverberate with sound.
After launching their bows on the final energetic attack, the musician looked out at the fanatically applauding audience. They finished the night with an encore performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Overture, a piece many audience members seemed to recognize. As we exited with the throng of music enthusiasts, we spied Eroica trio violinist Susie Park demurely standing next to the exit. “It was a great experience,” she told us beaming “playing with these musicians has been amazing, really a maelstrom.”