Joseph Young is the exciting Assistant Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and he made his subscription debut this week, and what a debut it was! It began with a memorial tribute to Jane Little, member of the ASO for 71 years, who died on stage last week while playing her beloved bass. The ASO played a beautifully formed “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Maestro Young did something that is not often heard at Symphony Hall: he managed to elicit from the orchestra an initial pianissimo that seemingly emerged out of the ambient sounds of the hall. Most conductors have no problem coaxing forte from the ASO, but a solid ppp is a rarity. The violins had great ensemble and a warm tone throughout, which added sheen to the performance.

Joseph Young © Jeff Roffman
Joseph Young
© Jeff Roffman
Following this, Haydn's Symphony no. 46 in B major opened the program and it was a delight. The strings throughout were flawless and they successfully highlighted the contrast between the sunny and the dark side of the music, especially in the first movement Vivace. In the second movement Andante, Maestro Young paid close attention to dynamics and the music’s lyricism, imparting a kind of gentle mysteriousness to it. Yet its underlying tension was omnipresent. The third movement Menuet was appropriately dance-like and light, but as in the second movement, the subtle underlying tension was just below the surface. The Presto e scherzando finale began energetically enough, with the main theme tossed around from section-to-section and then, surprisingly, the second half of the Menuet reappears. Then the horns introduce a kind of drone upon which the remainder of the movement is built. The ASO horns were fully engaged in this performance and their accents provided just the right amount of eeriness to the ending. Maestro Young was totally engaged with the orchestra in this performance. He did not use a baton, but his left hand provided a steady beat and it was freed up to work with his left hand in shaping the dynamics of the music. 

The soloists in Mozart's Concerto for two pianos in E flat major, K365 were Christina and Michelle Naughton. There is no denying the novelty of having twin sisters playing on twin pianos; but the performances of these young women is what was really novel. Not only are they energetic with great dynamic range, but they sound as if their four hands are just two; they play so precisely together that it is astonishing. Put that kind of playing together with Maestro Young’s firm control of the subtlety of the music and it created a solid and sophisticated performance of Mozart. Young also made frequent eye-contact with his soloists, which gave enhanced cohesiveness to the performance. The Naughtons were received warmly and they thanked the audience with an encore performance of one movement from Paul Schoenfeld’s Five Days from the Life of a Manic-Depressive. This was an athletic romp around the keyboard that perfectly showcased the power of the twins to make powerful music together.

Given that it is the 125th anniversary of Prokofiev’s birth, it was good to hear nine excerpts from his two suites from the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Young reveled in a startlingly good performance of "The Montagues and Capulets", big, bold and ominous, yet with a deliberate quality to the quiet middle section, conveying the hypnotic quality of the relationship between the two young lovers. This was a breathtaking performance. The other sections were equally compelling. The percussion, winds, and horns were particularly effective. Maestro Young chose to use a baton in this piece, used expressively and elegantly. 

This was an outstanding concert. Maestro Young has a brilliant technique for someone so young. As his repertoire grows and as he gains experience, his talent will continue to grow. Given the great skill he showed in this performance, he should soon be a most sought after conductor. And the performance by the Naughtons makes one wish that there were more literature for two pianos. They, too, are major emerging talents.