Orchestre Métropolitain de Montrêal/Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall – Cris Derksen, Rachmaninoff & Sibelius

Cris Derksen
Controlled Burn [New York premiere]

Piano Concerto No.2 in C-minor, Op.18

Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43

Cris Derksen (cello)

Tony Siqi Yun (piano)

Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 6 March, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s high profile appointments as Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera and of the Philadelphia Orchestra have tended to eclipse his much longer partnership with Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, which he has served as artistic director since 2000. This was the Canadian ensemble’s second visit to Carnegie Hall. The first was in 2019, when they played Mozart and Bruckner.

Canadian composer Cris Derksen was the cello soloist in her 12-minute Controlled Burn. The genre-defying piece skillfully blends the contemporary and the traditional with its interweaving of classical influences, elements of local music, and new-school electronic experimentation. The title refers to the practice of controlling wildfires by burning certain parts of the forest during the cooler, damper months to prevent unwanted bigger fires. In the opening, the soloist’s metallic cello along with the col legno strings of the orchestra effectively replicated the sound of crackling wood. Elsewhere the gliding glissandos from her amplified instrument effectively mimicked the squawking of seagulls while a variety of drums pounded out stomping rhythms. As climate change makes it likely that devastating forest fires in Canada and elsewhere will increase, Derksen’s dramatic and colorful score seemed to directly address the damage humans are heaping on Nature and to ourselves.

Next up was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. Tony Siqi Yun and Nézet-Séguin combined to give an admirable performance. The pacing of the opening Moderato was somewhat measured, but the climax was broad and very powerful, and the Finale full of excitement and all the sparkling bravura one could hope for. Although the strings lacked a certain richness, most noticeably in the central Adagio, the pianist’s graceful rendering of that wonderfully lyrical movement was poetic and full of romantic feeling. For an encore Yun offered more Rachmaninoff: an adrenalin-infused account of the Prelude in B-flat, Opus 23/2. When it finished, the orchestra immediately launched into an instrumental version of  ‘Happy Birthday’, for the conductor’s forty-ninth.

The ensuing interpretation of Sibelius’s Symphony No.2 was honest, mostly straightforward, and lacking in bombast. The first movement could have benefited from a little more thrust, and throughout, most noticeably in the Scherzo, there was a lack of the fire and high voltage one has come to expect in this, the most unabashedly romantic of the composer’s Seven Symphonies. The musicians played well enough for Nézet-Séguin, but the rendition came alive only fitfully, with the overall result failing to truly stir the listener. There was, however, a totally pleasing encore: a gently flowing reading of Edvard Grieg’s ‘The Last Spring’ from Two Elegiac Melodies, Opus 34.

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