New York Philharmonic Opening Night Gala – Jaap van Zweden conducts Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and Yo-Yo Ma plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto

Egmont, Op.84 – Overture

Capriccio italien, Op.45

Cello Concerto in B-minor, Op.104


Yo-Yo Ma (cello)

New York Philharmonic
Jaap van Zweden

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 27 September, 2023
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Following tradition, this Philharmonic opening gala concert began with Jaap van Zweden conducting a fervent rendition of the national anthem before launching into a taut, disciplined and exciting account of Beethoven’s jubilant Egmont Overture. 

An appropriately bubbly performance of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien came next. After a riveting opening fanfare, the music relaxed warmly into freely floating tempos, with van Zweden giving each theme its fullest, most festive character, and the closing pages displaying both grandeur and weight in a strikingly vivid accelerando. 

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is a signature piece for Yo-Yo Ma. A frequent guest with the Philharmonic, he looked delighted to be back with the ensemble and stayed that way throughout, frequently nodding at the musicians, and playing with exceptional eloquence, a joyful, sensitive, songful approach. The array of colors and shadings was marvelous – from the full, dusky timbre he brought to the secondary theme in the opening Allegro, to the lighter accents displayed in the arpeggio figurations of the passionate Adagio – but the most impressive playing was in the tender moments, especially those of the Finale. The Philharmonic’s accompaniment was consistently focused and supportive – sparkling woodwinds and the bravura horns – van Zweden eliciting vigorous contrasts in fortissimos without masking Ma’s frequently gentle playing.

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