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Guest conductor Morlot filled with infectious energy
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Guest conductor Morlot filled with infectious energy

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Symphony
with guest conductor
Ludovic Morlot
Thursday, October 22
Benaroya Hall


From Lyon, France, comes guest conductor Ludovic Morlot. Currently assistant conductor to James Levine at the Boston Symphony, he is a young bundle of energy whose every gesture exudes musicality. As he conducted this concert, he often bounced from the podium as though it were a trampoline, sometimes making an audible thump upon landing. He conducted, much like Los Angeles' new music director, Gustavo Dudamel, with his whole body. His energy infected the players, who seemed eager to respond to his every direction.

Morlot led the first three movements of Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony" at a very slow pace, which might have been deadly. Instead, the slow tempi allowed room to inject all sorts of musical delights: accents, amplified phrases and tonal palette, and rhythmic playfulness. Most effective, however, was the sense of joyful release that came with the sudden change to the "molto vivace" of the fast last movement. For me, this alone was justification for the slow tempi, which had acted like an expanding balloon that was finally allowed to burst with exuberance. Nothing like an overall plan to make a piece really effective!

Bohuslav Martinu's "Oboe Concerto" (1955) gave first-chair oboe Ben Hausmann a chance to play with us. Indeed, he seemed to delight in both the beauties and the challenges of this work. I can't pretend to have totally grasped its merits on first hearing, but I can report that there were exquisite moments, especially during the quieter parts, when Martinu wisely eased up on the orchestration. First there was a brief dalliance between oboe and cello; later a lovely play between oboe and piano! The faster orchestral bursts and the virtuosic cadenza-like passages for oboe were less effective, but left one wishing for a chance to re-visit this seldom-heard concerto.

The Dvorák selections from his "Legends," (Op. 59, Nos. 6, 7, & 9) were lightweight bundles of charm and warmth. With a welcome seasoning of schmaltz, Morlot let these bonbons fill the hall with melodic delight & a kind of musical tranquilizer after the modernisms of the Martinu.

The "Symphony No. 88 in G major" is one of my favorite mature Haydn works. Thus, I had the usual apprehension before someone new attempts to mess with my preconceived notions of how a piece should go. Not to worry! Morlot served us a fine Haydn meal, quite classical in shape, utterly lively throughout, and full of musical insights. Again, one was struck by how well the players responded to his wishes. Energy flirted with lovely moments of repose. Haydn's charm and wit were everywhere in evidence. I couldn't have wished for better.

With every guest conductor these days, one wonders if each is being "tested" to see if he or she might be right to step into the music director's shoes when Gerard Schwarz steps down after this season. Seattle could do worse than this ball of musical fire!

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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