The second of the candidates for the position of Music Director of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra gave a brilliant performance Friday night at Bay City’s First Presbyterian Church.
Arie Lipsky strode with unassuming step to the podium, gave a friendly smiling faint nod to those assembled, and stunned the music lovers in the audience (and orchestra) with a riveting, musical, entertaining, and insightful performance. The buzz was electric, not just because Maestro Lipsky triumphed, but because he triumphed over the dismal set of works he was required to conduct by rules of the conductor search.
The four pieces on the program were in themselves interesting and delightful, but taken as a whole, the choice was bland, unimaginative, short (20 more minutes of music would have been nice), and lacking in range or depth. As a result, how much did the audience (or orchestra) learn about where he would take the SBSO and how qualified he is to do it?
Fortunately, what Lipsky did display was up there with the best performances in the region in a long memory.
He began having no score or music stand in front of him, a clear sign to the audience that he planned to conduct from memory. The proof of the symphonic pudding is not that a conductor can conduct from memory. It is possible to “know” a work as well or better that is not memorized, and even to get a better performance out of it. However, in Lipsky’s case, it was clear he not only memorized three of the four pieces (not the Barber Concerto) but was ultimately their master and servant as well.
Beethoven’s Coriolanus Overture began the evening, and was from the first a swirling duet of brassy chordal fire and sweet Romantic subtleties. Lipsky’s reading featured brisk tempi, a true drama befitting the piece’s theatrical source, and a tension-filled forward motion that imperceptibly drew the audience along.
Next came Barber’s delicious Violin Concerto, suitably performed by violinist Dimitri Berlinsky, with a deft accompaniment from Lipsky and the orchestra. Berlinsky did not over-indulge the lyrical line, but rather coaxed it with a lovely tone. In addition, he gently breezed through the technical difficulties and potential traps that devour lesser artists.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the work’s gorgeous opening melody, which in one form or another underpins the whole first movement, and Lipsky clearly was smitten. He however never allowed the orchestra (or the audience) to wallow in overt sentimentality or miss the strong dramatic undercurrent that bubbles to the surface at times. Lipsky seemed able to make mid-course corrections in balance, holding back some sections while bringing out others, exactly as needed. And he managed to keep a consistent balance and blend in a hall that has no risers, acoustic shell, or ceiling sound reflectors!
Mention must also be made of Jan Eberle’s sumptuously lyrical oboe solo at the beginning of the second movement.
After intermission Lipsky returned with a softly tender and delicate reading of Mascagni’s famous Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. It was mesmerizing to watch his tall erect shape on the podium, long arms deftly, minimally, but perfectly sculpting the singing of the unison strings.
The evening ended with Haydn’s D Major “London” Symphony, a work that a lesser conductor would have considered either a curse or a blow-off for a job interview performance. Seemingly undeterred that he didn’t have a large, major, Romantic symphony to “show off” with, Lipsky did nothing less than pull one of the most authoritative, powerful, graceful, and Classically musical readings from this orchestra they’ve done in many a year. From the regal and playful serenity of the first movement, through wit in the second, to the sparkling champagne of the minuet, and the grandeur of the finale, Lipsky and the orchestra blended to give a picture perfect performance that brought the house immediately to its feet.
This man is the real deal. There was hardly anything out of place or less than memorable Friday night, even with the uneven program he was given.
Yes, there are more candidates to be heard, but I for one was ready to offer him the job that night.