Nathalie Stutzmann launched her tenure because the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s new music director — a outstanding achievement on many ranges — in an unexpectedly humble method: she received straight to work.
Maybe becoming for a star contralto-turned-conductor, Stutzmann’s inaugural program, Thursday in Symphony Corridor, was as a lot about singing as in regards to the symphony orchestra.
Because the ASO’s fifth music director in its 78-year historical past, she was making a press release of values and creative priorities by opening and shutting the night with Beethoven. The Ninth Symphony, with its “Ode to Pleasure” finale, got here on the finish and acquired thunderous cheers from the gang. Nearly everybody within the room appeared deliriously completely satisfied.
For now, there’s nonetheless a lot discuss of Stutzmann’s outstanding profession trajectory. Shockingly, she’s the one feminine at the moment serving as music director of a serious American orchestra. (Marin Alsop, in Baltimore, was the one different lady to ever maintain a put up amongst U.S. orchestras at this stage.) For a number of a long time, Stutzmann was among the many most celebrated contralto singers on the worldwide opera scene, whereas finally pursuing conducting full time. Within the ASO music director search, to interchange Robert Spano after his twenty years of management, the French-born Stutzmann leapfrogged over many rather more skilled conductors to say the prize.
After years of finding out to be a conductor, away from brilliant spotlights, she’s all of a sudden in demand all over the place, with high-profile debuts filling her calendar, from the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera to the Wagner competition in Bayreuth, Germany. Everybody needs a chunk of her.
These sorts of epoch-altering occasions all the time get an introductory speech, in fact. Thursday evening ASO board chair Patrick Viguerie had one thing to crow about, since he led the search committee. Anticipation was so excessive that simply the point out of Stutzmann’s title drew a standing ovation from the almost-capacity viewers, anticipating her grand look. However Viguerie wasn’t completed talking, so we sat down once more.
Moments later, soprano Talise Trevigne and Atlanta’s new music director arrived at heart stage, holding fingers to just accept the cheers collectively and, with no fuss, launched into Beethoven’s “Ah! Perfido,” a moody, dramatic scene for soprano and orchestra, the place a jilted lover curses her faithless ex one minute and needs the heavens to point out him mercy the following. The scene is quarter-hour of early Beethoven. His highly effective, unmistakable fashion had already fashioned, at the same time as he was nonetheless sprucing his craft for optimum impression and expression.
Trevigne was deluxe casting, with a theatrical supply and a wealthy soprano that soared simply over the orchestra in full fury and, instantly, was agile sufficient to navigate the virtuosic passages that bedevil anybody who sings Beethoven. The ASO gave elegant, loving assist.
Over many a long time, Atlanta has constructed a nationwide fame for its new-music programming, commissions and recordings. Making one other creative assertion, Stutzmann included a world premiere on her opening live performance: Phrases for Departure, a 19-minute, three-movement choral symphony by Hilary Purrington, an rising younger composer with boundless vitality and an ear for magnificence and emotional substance.
The phrases are drawn from three brief poems by Louise Bogan, who served because the nation’s poet laureate within the Nineteen Forties, the primary lady to carry this honor. Purrington says the textual content “describes and displays on the top of a romantic relationship.”
The piece was commissioned in 2020 by the League of American Orchestras and supposed for the Philadelphia Orchestra, the place Stutzmann is now principal visitor conductor. Composed in these first tense months of pandemic lockdowns, the music displays the nervousness and isolation and emotional turbulence of the instances. Stutzmann was scheduled to conduct the premiere in Philly, however Covid shut down their season.
So she introduced Phrases for Departure along with her, and the ASO gave its world premiere Thursday.
In a program be aware, the composer writes: “This undertaking, which started as an evaluation of an imagined relationship, was a meditation on the significance of investing in others and analyzing how we deal with each other.”
The music begins with a splash of orchestral colour — an enormous, American sound — however rapidly picks up a gentle pulse, with the piano tapping out a C-sharp endlessly. The lads of the ASO Refrain, in hushed tones, chant the opening strains, “Nothing was remembered, nothing forgotten,” time and again. It turns into neurotic chatter, or maybe scene portray: “The window-sills had been moist from rain within the evening.”
Purrington’s fashion matches the ASO’s fondness for tonal, post-minimalist composers who usually attain for the large gesture — even when it feels unearned or inappropriate — à la Leonard Bernstein. There are steadiness and readability points within the first motion, and Purrington appears to be experimenting with strategies to swimsuit the textual content. However alongside the way in which she finds moments of urgency and actual magnificence. The broad and low drone that opens the second motion units us up for the road, “I’ve remembered you.” The chirps and mild plinks within the third conjure, splendidly, a form of city pastoral panorama. Purrington has quite a bit to say, and she or he’s discovering her personal voice.
Stutzmann’s studying of Beethoven’s Ninth was a extra sophisticated affair, and supplied hints of her interpretive method. Numerous it was messy and sounded under-rehearsed, which is stunning for a chunk so ultra-familiar to this orchestra and refrain. It sounded just like the conductor took every thing aside in rehearsal and didn’t have fairly sufficient time to place it again collectively. But components of it had been as alive and probing as I’ve heard in a very long time.
It rapidly turned clear that Stutzmann is all for rhetoric, the place phrases are delivered virtually as speech. All through the symphony, there was an improvisational, let’s-figure-this-out-as-we-go vibe that set the listener on edge — what may presumably occur subsequent? Alas, they couldn’t maintain that stage of consideration inside every motion. The conductor gave the impression to be shaping concepts as a lot because the music itself, however usually the fundamentals, like a string tone to match the ability and colour of the woodwinds, felt uncared for.
The excellent vocal quartet — soprano Trevigne, mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano, tenor Robin Tritschler, baritone Leon Košavić — was sadly stationed behind the orchestra, standing among the many choristers. Contemplating Symphony Corridor’s poor acoustics, this dulls even probably the most lovely voices and their impression.
In all, this won’t have been a Beethoven’s Ninth for the ages, however appears a wholesome begin to a brand new collaboration, of excessive values and exploration. This system repeats Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Pierre Ruhe was the founding govt director and editor of ArtsATL. He’s been a critic and cultural reporter for the Washington Put up, London’s Monetary Instances and the Atlanta Journal-Structure, and was director of creative planning for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He’s publications director of Early Music America.