Guest conductor Andreas Delfs leads inspired Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performance

08:24 PM, Mar 22, 2013


Written By Daniel J. Kushner

If you go

What: Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
Cost: $15 to $82 ($10 for students).
For tickets: (585) 454-2100 or rpo.org.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra delivered an inspired performance Thursday night, led by guest conductor Andreas Delfs in a concert that repeats Saturday.

The evening began with Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau,” a symphonic poem from the larger work Ma vlast (My Homeland). While the composer wrote the piece with his native Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in mind, the majestic Romanticism intertwined with charming folk melodies is universal.

Delfs’ conducting style was brilliantly straightforward. His aesthetic was all the more effective in service to Smetana’s accessible and articulate musical dialect — an ideal match.

The program’s middle composition was entirely different. The Eastman Theatre audience witnessed the the first RPO performance of American composer Vincent Persichetti’s Concerto for English Horn and String Orchestra.

These compositional devices in this 20th century piece may leave one feeling musically disoriented, but Persichetti’s English horn melodies are much more clear, even as they imbue the landscape with ambiguity and intrigue. The performance by English horn soloist Anna Steltenpohl, an oboist with the RPO, was spot-on: engaging yet elusive. Her melodic phrasing seemed to shroud the atmosphere with a sheer fog through which the listener could feel the music from a distance. Steltenpohl was at all times connected to the emotional tenor of the music. Her instrument’s tone was at times somber, playful and inquisitive elsewhere, and at other times still, lonesome.

Persichetti’s presence on a program that featured Romantic-era works by Bohemian composers was an absolute blessing. It is a rare occurrence to hear a 20th century American composition sharing the bill with works more firmly established in the classical canon. The RPO would do well to mix them this way on a consistent basis.

Delfs and the orchestra rounded out the evening with an unequivocally stupendous rendition of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major. Dvorak channeled the immediacy of folk music into evocative orchestration of the grandest variety. Delfs’ intense yet unadorned conducting style was a godsend.

The mercurial final movement encapsulated the Symphony No. 8’s vibrancy, from unfettered joy to quiet elegance, from stately restraint to explosive grandeur. The chemistry between the RPO and Maestro Delfs is magnetic, and their collaboration exquisite.