I have never been invested in any of the business surrounding music director Gerard Schwarz’s reputedly troubled relationship with Seattle Symphony. I’m usually happy sitting and listening to whatever is being played at Benaroya.
But there’s a huge difference between happy and ecstatic—and it wasn’t Maestro Schwarz who bridged that gap for me. Get your tickets now for the last remaining performances of guest conductor Leonard Slatkin leading Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, the performance of which last night earned one of the few genuine, spontaneous, get-me-up-out-of-my-seat standing ovations I’ve experienced in this city.
Yes, the Berlioz piece possesses a robust delirium that can’t help but grab you. But Slatkin brought out its magnificent highs and lows in a manner that made them seem a natural, heated conversation between him, us, and the orchestra. The symphony sounds spectacular under his guidance—rich, clear, full of zest. And Slatkin is a thrill to watch at work. He moves with an effusive, elaborate grace—sweeps of the arms, hands clutching or caressing the air—that almost suggests he were somehow pulling the notes out of the instruments. Maybe “effusive” and “elaborate” are wrong, though: He’s not over-the-top but you notice every detail of the care with which he’s commanding more from the musicians or quietly requesting less.
There’s long been a saying that even the uninitiated recognizes greatness when it reveals itself; you don’t have to be familiar with bullfighting, for instance, to know when a superior matador walks into the ring.
You’ll understand what I’m talking about after you’ve watched Slatkin in this particular ring. No bull.