Review: Jonathon Heyward Debuts With the Philharmonic

On paper, this week’s New York Philharmonic program had a lot to offer, including balance, up-and-coming conductors and established soloists. But Thursday’s concert at the David Geffen Hall was at times on the verge of a blast, and real fire was often short of a kindling stick or two.

Still, the show offered an opportunity to catch rising star Jonathon Hayward, who made his Philharmonic debut as a stand-in for Karina Kanelakis. A few months later, he becomes the first black music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. And from the start of Thursday’s performance, it seems his reputation for dramatic feel and attention to dynamics has been well earned.

In the opening minutes of Zocha di Castri’s Lineage, an 11-minute piece from 2013, Hayward drew dynamism from the orchestra without resorting to loud volume.Tachichipo’, which draws momentum from a hairpin turn that marries a drone-like state with a surprising stream of motivational activity. But towards the end of the piece, in the quiet moments of still-busy writing, the Philharmonic’s interpretation loosened up – either sounding tentative or not reaching full commitment.

A similar thing happened with Brahms’ long, majestic Violin Concerto. Initially, Hayward attracted the attention of philharmonic players. During the opening movement, he subtly formed a dramatic pause shortly before soloist Christian Tetzlaff’s appearance. The orchestra responded with tactile precision to his dramatic yet not-too-mannered way of navigating the transitions.

Tetzlaff was also impressive here like a recent recording Ondine’s label for this piece. His approach had clearly been well-trained beforehand, but proved to be sensitive to Hayward’s beats here as well. And his masterful manipulation of Joseph Joachim’s first movement cadenza, with tonal effects that range from rough-hewn to silvery to powerfully expressive, represented an invention long lacking in broad ensemble playing.

At times, Tetzlaff seemed to have crossed the line and didn’t seem to have studied much, but it helped set the explosive precision. , may have proved equally thrilling.

Thankfully, after the break, the nimbleness increased in Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra. Though less formally radical than other works in this Polish modernist catalogue, Hayward and the orchestra find a great wealth of rowdy material to savor. The folk-like melody of the first movement was singable and contrasted nicely with the raging moments after Stravinsky. The more mellow middle movement had an air of mystery. And the third movement, Passacaglia, progresses with convincing momentum.

The final piece also dispelled any sense I had that Brahms might have been held back by the slightly chilly acoustics of the recently renovated Geffen Hall. There were some round, warm sounds that were missing. But the orchestra is still getting used to its new home, and Hayward is still getting used to this orchestra. Over time, programs like this may find a better tone.

and he’ll be backAfter Saturday’s Performance — A Nightcap Continues Program written by Di Castri — Hayward will be absent from Geffen Hall until he leads the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in August.

new york philharmonic

The program repeats through Saturday at David Geffen Hall in Manhattan. nyphil.org.

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