The newly announced Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Santtu-Matias Rouvali,offers a lively and entertaining concert that seems a tantalising taste of what audiences can expect when he officially takes over in the 2020/2021 season.

Having recently been announced as the Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, taking over from Esa-Pekka Salonen, Santtu-Matias Rouvali and his performance alongside the Philharmonia Orchestra was warmly received by the audience – thrilling, delighting and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.

Comprised of ‘The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra’ by John Adams and Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Violin Concerto in D’ and ‘Petrushka’, this was a real opportunity for Rouvali to make his mark and he didn’t disappoint. With each of these pieces, the Finnish conductor was thoroughly lively, embracing every change in tone of the music and adding extra depth to it that was then highlighted in the Philharmonia’s enthusiastic and mesmerising performances.

The concert opened with a particularly enjoyable and infectious rendition of ‘The Chairman Dances’ composed by John Adams in 1985 and was later included into the composer’s opera Nixon in China. This was a piece of music that was joyful to listen too, filled with a rich tones that was beautifully picked up on by both the orchestra and Rouvali. This was a clear indication that the evening was going to be filled with unexpected surprises.

However, in contrast to this, the orchestra and violin soloist Pekka Kuusisto’s performance of Stravinsky’s Concerto in D was remarkably restrained and almost tentative at first, before exploding into a wonderfully vibrant and technically challenging performance that once again had the power to surprise the audience. It was also clear to see just how utterly absorbed the orchestra was in the music, helped again by Rouvali’s thoughtful approach to the piece.

The second part of the concert focused on Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’ that once again showed both the orchestra and conductor working well together to create a harmonious working relationship that made the audience feel every note that was being performed.

For me, the concert was just lacking slightly in emotional connection in places that felt like a bit of barrier, making me feel aware of the separation between the audience, orchestra and conductor. However, despite this – it was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable concert that offers a tantalising hint of what future audiences can expect from the collaboration between the Philharmonia Orchestra and Santtu-Matias Rouvali.

By Emma Clarendon

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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