The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra’s Summer Season 2019 ended last night and, having especially enjoyed a few particular moments during the season, I’ve highlighted them here to preserve the happy memory of them. I attended the Thursday night concert of each week, and I list my highlights below in chronological order, from reading the season’s programme in January through the four weeks of concerts.
1. The inclusion of two works on this season’s programme written in the last 100 years (the Korngold violin concerto, and Ravel’s G major piano concerto).
2. An all-Mozart week, featuring the last and greatest of his symphonies.
4. The superb principal French horn Shannon Armer’s meltingly beautiful solo in the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony.
5. Yampolsky’s headlong charge through the coda of the finale of the Tchaikovsky, when all the unevenness and flaws of the evening were forgotten: all that mattered was the triumph of E major.
6. The energy, delight, and pure fun that the Brazilian-Israeli conductor Deborah Waldman brought to her week’s performances; even the rigid, metronomic rhythms she sometimes employed seemed like playful choices.
7. The choral-like mournful sound that Waldman induced from the strings in the ashen Death of Åse, in Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” suite.
8. Junnan Sun’s growling clarinet in the first movement of the Ravel piano concerto. (Sun is the splendid principal clarinettist of the KZN Philharmonic.)
9. The assured and steady hand that Bernhard Gueller held over Mozart’s Jupiter symphony. His delight in directing the work, as well as his warm confidence in the orchestra’s ability to pull it off, were abundantly clear.
10. The alluring clarity of all the voices in the contrapuntal parts of Mozart’s crowning symphonic achievement, as Gueller glowingly highlighted them one by one.
11. The woodwinds’ charming rhythmic unity in Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” overture, under the direction of Daniel Boico.
12. The big and unforgettably powerful sound that Olga Kern always sends beaming from the Linder Auditorium’s Steinway.
13. The matching power and brawny sonority that Boico elicited from the whole orchestra in the following piece, Sibelius’s resonantly plaintive second symphony.
14. The concentrated energy that Boico brought to the entire proceedings, which made for the most rousing concert of the season.