Pasa Reviews Santa Fe Symphony with guest conductor Ryan McAdams
Santa Fe Symphony Lensic Performing Arts Center, April 12
Ryan McAdams, the latest up-and-comer to ascend the Santa Fe Symphony’s podium in a bid to be named the group’s principal conductor, scored a success when he led the orchestra in a concert of Dvorˇák, Sibelius, and Brahms at the Lensic Performing Arts Center last Sunday afternoon. During his five-year tenure as music director of the New York Youth Symphony (a seriously impressive orchestra), both McAdams and his crew were repeatedly honored with ASCAP Adventurous Programming Awards, but this program comprised familiar meat and potatoes from start to finish.
Four of Dvorˇák’s Slavonic Dances opened the afternoon with lusty vigor, the orchestra proving enthusiastic, if a bit boomy, in the loud expanses — which is to say frequently. Listeners would not have guessed that many measures of the opening Furiant (Op. 46, No. 1) are marked pianissimo; and even in the more restrained Dumka (Op. 72, No. 2), the orchestra did not offer the technical breadth to trace the almost constant dynamic gradation of Dvorˇák’s score. McAdams conducted clearly and helpfully, providing requisite cues without engaging in note-by-note pantomime. He built phrases logically from point A to point B, and one imagined that, given the opportunity to pursue some long-term orchestra building, he might coax the ensemble into breathing and bowing more delicate lift into those phrases.
Violinist Alexi Kenney was an impressive soloist in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, playing throughout with technical precision and meticulous intonation. It is not really a young man’s concerto, and at twenty-one, Kenney appeared not yet entirely in sync with the embittered ponderings of the downcast Finn. His interpretation accordingly steered more toward aristocratic elegance than the anguish or cynicism that seem to be the work’s hallmarks. His next steps as he grows with this concerto will most likely involve drawing more richness out of his lower strings and giving himself permission to inflict grittiness or even violence in articulating some of its phrases. In fact, he did allow himself more unbuttoned freedom in the first of his encores, the unaccompanied Tango-Étude No. 3 by Piazzolla, after which he offered a refined rendition of an allemande by the mid-Baroque composer Johann Paul von Westhoff. It is rare to encounter a young violinist at such an advanced point of development who works from a default position of concomitant technical and musical purity. I hope we will have the opportunity to hear him again in Santa Fe as he continues along the highly promising path on which he has embarked.
Following intermission, the orchestra tackled Brahms’ brawny Symphony No. 1, and during the first movement it realized sustained music-making at a high level. McAdams led a clearly plotted, passionate reading, a fully finished interpretation that earned the musicians’ obvious commitment. The orchestra’s limitations were on more frequent display in the ensuing movements, although much of the playing was admirable. Concertmaster David Felberg deserved top marks for his solo passages in the second movement. In the introduction to the finale, the antiphonal work among the horns was similarly spot on, as was the chorale of the trombones, even if the texture that surrounded them did not achieve quite the atmosphere of hushed sublimity the passage invites. But McAdams’ instincts and aspirations seemed in the right place, and one was left wondering what the orchestra might accomplish under his ongoing guidance.
— James M. Keller