Friday, May 20, 2016

Festive music cap Olivier Ochanine stint as PPO music director.

Odin Rathnam, violin
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

Jules Massenet
     Suite for Orchestra No. 6 Scènes de Féerie
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
     Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
George Enescu
     Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A major, Op. 11
Alberto Ginastera
     Four Dances from Estancia, Op. 8a

Francesco Maria Veracini
     Allegro from Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op. 7
Aram Khachaturian
     Lezghinka from Gayaneh

Capping his six year stint, Olivier Ochanine took to the podium for the very last time as the music director/principal conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at a concert with music that toned down the drama and amped the festive mood instead.

The concert also featured returning violinist Odin Rathnam as the featured soloist in Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35. At times, the orchestra felt anemic, a bit bland during the quiet moments and also not swelling enough during the romantic climaxes of the first movement. After an unsettling disconnect at the start, Odin and the orchestra eventually clicked during the latter part of the first movement and both were in their element during the exhilarating jig of the third movement. It was a bit of a letdown that the opening movement, which was my favorite, didn’t pan out perfectly as I hoped it would. Also in between movements, Odin cracked some jokes and while the audience found it funny, I thought that it broke the mood that should've been kept until the end of the piece. My anticipation to hear the Korngold performed live again after almost six years set such a high expectation that it wasn't easy for me to let pass the things that have gone awry no matter how small they were.

During Odin’s encore, when he was left on his own to play the Allegro from Francesco Maria Veracini’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 7, he was absolutely phenomenal and was able to make the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Main Theater acoustics sound divine. It didn’t matter that this was the same encore he did when he performed the Brahms a couple of years ago.

While the orchestra struggled with the long, sweeping passages during the Korngold, they had no problem with the very pronounced rhythms of the other pieces in the program namely Jules Massenet’s Suite for Orchestra No. 6 Scènes de Féerie, George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A major, Op. 11, and Alberto Ginastera’s Four Dances from Estancia, Op. 8a. These pieces, mostly taken from ballets, didn’t feature that much contrast in mood and dynamics and didn’t have much drama. Instead, the music went on to build and build, ultimately snowballing into an exciting climax which was evident during the percussion frenzied Malambo, the final dance from Ginastera’s Estancia that ultimately ended the concert And the dancing fever didn’t stop there as the orchestra did Aram Khachaturian’s Lezghinka from the ballet Gayaneh as their encore. They performed this as an encore years ago too, but this time, it was at a tempo that I am satisfied with.

What left me a bit unsatisfied in this concert was the lack of a symphony. For a milestone concert, marking the end of a memorable run, one would expect a major symphony to be part of the program. In the end, the night felt like there wasn't enough meat in it. Also, the previously announced performance of the PPO Composition Competition winner didn't happen due to the entries not meeting the criteria that were set. 

Olivier Ochanine came to the PPO at the time when the orchestra lacked a clear direction, and the Manila Symphony Orchestra and FILharmoniKA started having their respective season concerts also. Being the youngest music director of the PPO to date, Olivier took advantage of social media (and also his cameo roles in a couple of television series) and successfully used it as a promotional tool to entice younger audiences to watch the concerts.  Music wise, he was able to introduce to the Philippine audience works by Carl Nielsen, Alan Hovhaness and Steven Stucky while also accommodating audience requests for the more popular fare like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Personally, I am grateful that throughout the years, Olivier has been very kind in entertaining (and enduring) my numerous requests, suggestions, complaints, and brutally honest views. Our discussions about the PPO, the music scene here in the Philippines, and almost anything under the sun have always been animated with a lot of stuff not suitable for print. Olivier may not be the PPO’s music director/principal conductor anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve already seen the last of him.

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