Standing Ovation for Sinfonía no. 4 with The Philadelphia Orchestra


Philadelphia Inquirer

POSTED: Saturday, November 3, 2012, 3:01 Am

Dance wends its way through the four pieces on the Philadelphia Orchestra's present program led by Giancarlo Guerrero - bolero, the Charleston, and Martha Graham. No actual dancers appear, but movement and stories are left behind - as in an elegant reading of Appalachian Spring, the 1945 version of the piece Copland first called Ballet for Martha. Thursday night in Verizon Hall, the winds (flutist David Cramer, oboist Peter Smith, clarinetist Ricardo Morales) were vehicles of sincerity and simplicity.

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Ears needed Copland's peace, given the rest of the program. Medea's Dance of Vengeance by Barber, even when it's not boiling over, is threatening to. Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F offered pianist Kirill Gerstein, whose big and bright sound and smart little cheats of rhythm here and there restored edge to a well-worn score. You knew the ride would be a wild one by the opening rush from the podium. After a while, much of the interpretive authorship could be ascribed to Guerrero, a generally brusque presence all night, and especially so in overlooking chances to stretch a rhythm or shape a melody. Alone, Gerstein made it clear that he saw Gershwin as expressive kin to Rachmaninoff. It made for a lovely connection.

The most important artistic statement was last, but the appearance of a new work at the end of the program scared off the three or four dozen audience deserters even before the piece could make its case. Roberto Sierra's Sinfonía No. 4, in fact, is the friendliest of music - so descriptive and dramatic it could be the opening-title music if The Incredibles are ever called upon to save the tropical rainforest.

Film music wasn't Sierra's charge. Rather, the four-movement work was a commission by the Sphinx Organization and 12 orchestras, including Philadelphia, as part of an effort to bring works to concert halls by black and Latino composers. But Sierra's imagination fires the listener's: a dark orchestral thicket lit only by harp, coiled tension that only partially resolves, scurrying and punching. Menace awaits everywhere. The third movement, "Tiempo de bolero," is the emotional heart of the work, and two pieces in one. Never overtly stated, Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in E minor shadows the music, a romance playing out while frantic dystopian material is layered over it. A love scene? If it is, love has never been more complex, and maybe even sinister.

© Roberto Sierra 2014