Last night’s concert featured the Québec native pianist and frequent OSM guest Alain Lefèvre and the guest conductor Ludovic Morlot, Music Director of the Seattle Symphony. The program was dedicated to cellist, educator and founder of I Musici de Montréal Yuli Turovsky, who died yesterday.

Alain Lefèvre © Caroline Bergeron
Alain Lefèvre
© Caroline Bergeron

Wagner’s broad and majestic prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg opened the concert, rich and uplifting in tone. The trumpets dominated this work, adding sharp and crystal-clear punctuation to the ends of phrases. Wagner’s music churned on and on, spinning forward like a kind of Romantic homage to the Baroque. Mr Morlot was there, fulfilling his role as guest conductor on the podium, but his influence was minimal on the performance. I had the sense throughout that the orchestra was basically playing without him. As always in Wagner, the tuba was an important voice in the music, and this time the basses joined tubist Dennis Miller to accompany his solo, which soared to a high range and concluded with a well executed trill – no easy feat on that instrument.

Alain Lefèvre entered the hall with warm applause from the audience, who knows his playing so well. He was to première Walter Boudreau’s Concerto de l’asile, a piece which had its genesis in a collaborative venture between Lefèvre and Boudreau five years ago when Lefèvre performed the piano work Valse de l’asile. The material from this waltz is present throughout the concerto.

It began with a discordant snap, as if to sweep us into the mind of a mental patient in an asylum. What unfolded was a portrait of insanity. Disjunct, violent and unrelenting episodes flashed into existence and then disappeared, punctuated by savagely fast and forceful piano playing and a barrage of percussion effects. Lefèvre, as always, was extremely active, using his whole body to beat sound out of the grand piano, and at one point he rent the air with his left hand twisted into a claw. Sudden appearances of Boudreau’s waltz melody surfaced, almost meekly, only to be viciously trampled by the surrounding cacophony. Then, suddenly, Lefèvre was playing alone. I thought it was an early cadenza, but then he himself stopped. The only sound was Morlot nervously flipping pages in his score. Finally he ceased flipping, turned around and addressed the audience in English, saying: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a world première, and not only were we not together at all, but I would like to start again, to better find the spirit of the piece.” And so the piece began anew.

The second movement was an oasis of calm after the tempest that had preceded it. Boudreau crafted a mysterious permutation of the waltz melody this time replete with string harmonics, bowed percussion and ethereal harp glissandi. It was a gentle yet disturbed waltz, harmonically prone to sudden leaps often influenced by tritones. However, much like in the first movement, Boudreau’s ideas were fantastic and fresh, but quickly grew stale with overuse. There simply wasn’t enough contrast in any of the movements. It could be summarized that the first movement was a savage, visceral one, the second recollective and dreamlike, and the third similar to the first movement but with a more blatant reliance on the waltz theme. Again, Boudreau had many convincing ideas, but I would have preferred the Reader’s Digest version. The composer took to the stage after the performance, sporting bright red sneakers, and accepted the applause graciously.

Debussy’s Images concluded the program. It begins ambiguously with a single held tone enshrouded in lush whole-tone accompaniment, evoking images of cascading jade dust accompanied by exotic fragrances. Again, Morlot was competent but not suggestive in his force of personality, and the interpretation turned out to be less than riveting. Castanets and tambourine embellish the second movement, which forms a lively and exotic dance, a genre in which Debussy was a formidable composer. As always, this music is suggestive in nature – why many people liken his work to that of the Impressionistic painters. It contains less theme-based material and instead relies on repeating cells of music which seem to indicate color more than syntactical meaning. The MVP of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal this evening was most certainly Paul Merkelo on principal trumpet, who played dozens of pristine solos throughout the evening with his usual brightness and clarity of tone.

Aside from the large misstep in the world première, Mr Morlot was an appreciated guest, though his effect on the overall product seemed slight. The OSM played quite well on their own this evening, however, and Mr Lefèvre received a warm and sincere response.

***11