Three debuts in one programme can increase the tension in a concert hall to a tangible voltage but they can also fill the room with an incredible joy and triumphant enthusiasm. This matinee in Düsseldorf's Tonhalle was exactly one of those enjoyable performances which make a debut memorable and a concert worthy of mention. Every part of the programme was most interesting: Kevin Beavers’s Symphonic Transformations were resplendent, premiered in the presence of the composer; two young Dutch pianists, the brothers Arthur and Lucas Jussen, conquered the Tonhalle with the Poulenc’s incendiary Concerto; and the directing was in the hands of the Russian conductor Dmitry Liss who generously shared his joy, energy and mastery with Düsseldorf’s musicians and public.  

Dmitry Liss © Karsten Witt Musik Management
Dmitry Liss
© Karsten Witt Musik Management
The Symphonic Transformations were composed in 2014 but have a long maturation history. This orchestral work germinated from a musical theme by John Beall, Beavers’ composition teacher at the University of West Virginia, and grew years later into a series of nine variations. The most striking was Beavers’ ingenious instrumentation, in particular his choice of leading instruments and the ones to frame the sound landscape. The constant presence of the harp determined the wavy, broad lines, mixing beautifully with the flow of the strings. The last ones levitated to the highest and slenderest sound shadows which, in turn, created a fragile timbre. The fragmentary construction and brevity of phrases were sharpened with pizzicati and fortified with a whole range of inventive percussion, ‘operated’ by no fewer than five players. The explosive brass section added welcome fervency. Beavers composed with an iridiscent orchestral palette with a surprisingly chatoyant sound. The sound spiral of melodies, phrases and rhythms unfolded finally into a whirwind, a piercing tocsin of bells and piccolo.  

The conductor, who is experienced in contemporary repertoire, demonstrated a profound knowledge of the score and a clear vision, which gave him all the freedom for a thoroughly worked out, vivid interpretation.

Poulenc’s concerto also felt like a première, as it was already 28 years ago since the orchestra played it with Katia and Marielle Labéque under the baton of David Shallon. Today’s team obviously enjoyed every moment of Poulenc’s fireworks of sound and rhythm. The two brothers dumbfounded with their energizing and flamboyant playing. The orchestra joined the game, catching with ease the youthful spirit and sharing vim and vigour. The understanding between conductor and piano duo led to a remarkably joyful, light and vibrant performance. The animated first movement, with its sentimental theme and the crystal clear sonorities, was more than convincing in the precision and clarity of execution. The piano sound in the charming melodic lines of the Mozartian-romantic Larghetto was refined and delicate. The stylish versatile finale proved once again how well the brothers anticipate and respond to each other. As an encore, the duo treated the public for another pianistic feast: three light, sparkling and playful pieces from Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants.

The inspiring conducting of Liss ignited the sparks of shared enthusiasm in the orchestra. Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony was played at a high tempo, almost in one breathe, but still perfectly detailed, with clear phrasing and beautifully played solos. It was a pleasure to witness the understanding and expressive contact between the guest conductor and the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker. Smiling and supporting, Liss invited the orchestra to join him and enjoy the music, constantly inspiring, inflaming and generating energy to infatuate the whole hall. Confident and exacting, the Russian conductor shaped this high spirited symphony without sparing his energy.

This Tonhalle matinee had a remarkable denouement with a throwaway bouquet. With a conductor’s precision, Liss directed it to an elderly lady, who blushed at the unexpected attention. She appeared to be his former teacher of music literature at the music college. This most touching gesture created a connection with another homage to a teacher at the beginning of the concert: a unique combination of circumstances in an energetic concert.