Let's be honest for a moment, music fans: when you think of a place to release your inner child, a classical concert hall isn't usually the first place that springs to mind. Doug Fitch, however, the founder of "Giants are small", evidently doesn't see it that way. Joining forces with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, Fitch has started with Stravinsky's Petrushka, added large meaures of technical wizardry in puppetry and video production, and then thrown in any number of ideas to drag us from our seats into a Russian Shrovetide and bring Petrushka to life.

© Alison Karlin
© Alison Karlin

There are two basic ideas, which are staggeringly obvious when you see them. The first is that Petrushka is about puppets, which makes a good idea to have puppetry on the stage – but since puppets are a bit small, they're filmed live and projected onto a giant screen above the orchestra. The second is that since a lot of the orchestra isn't doing anything for a lot of the time, you might as well have them doing Shrovetide Fair-like things (i.e. eating, getting drunk, dancing, getting into fights and generally misbehaving) in the bits where they're not playing. And, occasionally, in the bits where they are. And since the three puppets in the story (Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor) are in thrall to a Great Magician, who better to fulfil that function than Alan Gilbert, resplendent in a long silk jacket.

© Alison Karlin
© Alison Karlin
Fitch lets loose a sustained barrage of visual ideas. There are sleds sliding in the snow. There's a peep show into which you peer, to be roundly told off by a priest. One of the orchestra's violists comes to the front to do a juggling act (with the aid of the four puppeteers). As we hear the Moor's faux-Turkish music, the screen displays a large "#orientalism". The pièce de résistance, for me, was a close-up shot of a row of fur-lined boots which are being made to stamp up and down in time to create a heavy-footed peasant dance. It was like watching an animated film being made in real time in front of you: one could choose to look either at the finished film or at the process by which it was being made.

My own inner child was utterly carried away by it all, to the point that I wouldn't be able to tell you whether or not, from a purely musical point of view, this was the greatest orchestral performance of Petrushka I've ever heard. All I can say is that the playing was certainly up to a high enough standard to play its part in a wonderful spectacle, and Gilbert certainly kept everything running with precision and created abundant joie de vivre in the music. The variety of the orchestration really stood out, as did the virtuosity of Stravinsky's polyrhythmic writing: the fact that he can paint a crowd bustling at the same time as a roundabout whirling and puppets dancing, all in different rhythms, is something really special.

This show was given twice in the day. For the earlier matinee, Petrushka was given standalone. For the evening performance, it was preceded by conventional orchestral performances of two other ballet scores of similar period: Debussy's 1913 Jeux and Bartók's 1919 The Miraculous Mandarin, in its abridged suite form. Like Stravinsky's work, both of these are scores which pushed the boundaries of what an orchestra can do to paint pictures: Debussy's music set within a lazy, voluptuous background of a summer afternnon, Bartók's in a violent, degraded urban landscape.

I'm not sure the NY Phil's heart was really in these pieces. The playing was precise, error-free, well-paced and with admirable control of dynamics. But for much of this half of the concert, there was a lack of definition: individual woodwind lines didn't stand out clearly above the background wash, high strings lacked a shimmering quality, phrasing was just a little bit too straight and conservative, seductive dances failed to seduce. The one outstanding part of the orchestra was the trombone and tuba section, who gave a thrilling account of the climaxes in The Miraculous Mandarin.

I assume that the promoters felt that Petrushka on its own was insufficient to justify the ticket price for a full evening concert. I'm not sure I agree: together, Fitch, Gilbert and the NY Phil put on a great show which thoroughly eclipsed a first half that was no more than ordinary.