Sinaisky returns to Seattle with Brahms and Ravel

Conductor Vassily Sinaisky

It was couples only night Thursday at the Seattle Symphony. French and German. Ravel and Brahms. Cello and Violin. Daphnis and Chloe. Returning to the podium was the conductor Vassily Sinaisky.

With everyone wondering who will be the Seattle Symphony’s next music director, Sinaisky is undoubtedly at the top of the list for some people. The conductor is currently the head of the Malmo Symphony and the Chief Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian is eyeing an American Post as the next step in his career.

Sinaisky made his debut with the Seattle Symphony in 2005 conducting Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra. In subsequent return visits, Sinaisky stuck with repertory close to his Russian roots — Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich. For his 2010 visit, the program Sinaisky chose was surprising but not unusual for someone ostensibly being “interviewed” for the job of music director. In place of the electric Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky we’ve come to expect from Sinaisky were Johannes Brahms’ Double Concerto and Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe.”  Sinaisky, perhaps, was trying to show Seattle he can do more than just Russian doom and gloom.

Violinist Henning Kraggerud and cellist Daniel Muller-Schott joined the SSO for Brahms’ Double Concerto. Of the two soloists, Muller-Schott is probably the better known of the two. This shouldn’t be viewed as a reflection on Kraggerud’s talents, he is as gifted a violinist as Muller-Schott is a cellist. Kraggerud, however, seemed tentative with his playing in the first movement before he settled into Brahms’ triangulations with the cello and orchestra.

Sinaisky was right at home in the storm and stress of the concerto’s first movement, emphasizing the storm with scintillating results. With each gesture, he implored a larger, plumper sound from the band. Coming off the first movement’s torrents, the horns and winds struggled a bit at the start of the second movement. The third movement returns the concerto to the energy of the first movement. Its hairpin jumpiness was no problem for Kraggerud, Muller-Schott or the SSO.

After the intermission, Sinaisky and the SSO brought us another pair, this time, a pair of lovers. The complete “Daphnis et Chloe” is somewhat of a rarity. More often, audiences are treated to just a tiny slice of Ravel’s colorful score in the form of one of three orchestral suites. This is too bad, because the complete ballet is stuffed with contrasting moods, descriptive musical episodes, timbrel variety, emotional depth, and above all else urgency – at least we heard all of this (and more!) during Thursday night performance.

I have heard some say Sinaisky can get too caught up in the music, sometimes at the expense of more thorough rehearsals, and accurate playing on concert day. There were moments where the orchestra faltered and there were also moments where it was clear the conductor was enjoying himself. In one such example of the latter, Sinaisky rocked on the podium along with Dorcon’s lumbering dance music. Is it bad if the conductor and orchestra are enjoying what they are doing? I don’t think so, especially if the results are this good.


3 thoughts on “Sinaisky returns to Seattle with Brahms and Ravel

  1. There was a lot of smiling between soloists, and the conductor, esp. the Brahms. The Ravel was muddy and disorganized at times, but the vision was there. This guy would be an excellent choice, over the present conductor. It was like hearing a real orchestra, not a milk toast version. The sound was louder, fuller, brighter and more vigorous than the past two concerts I have been to. (One was Beethoven’s Ninth. I only wished that this conductor had been on the podium)

    I was reading the notes in the evening program about Schwarz and his friendship with Bernstein. It was clearly inferred that Schwarz played under Bernstein regularly and he learned so much from this conductor. That aura brought him to Seattle and has continually endeared him to his patrons. Let us get this straight though. Schwarz joined the New York Phil. in 1972, according to what I saw on the net. Bernstein was no longer the music director then, having left the post in 1969. He undoubtedly returned as a guest conductor or as conductor emeritis, but the implication I got from the notes was not true. He played under Boulez, and obviously, took away little from Boulez in terms of repetoire or approach.

  2. Thanks for the comment Musiclover. Seattle could certainly do a lot worse than Sinaisky. I happened to be back stage last night and I listened to the last 20 minutes or so of Daphnis et Chloe and I thought it was better than Thursday. I also learned that the violinist nearly missed his call on Thursday night. His alarm apparently didn’t go off. Seven minutes before he was supposed to go on he was getting dressed and running to Benaroya. Wild!

    I don’t know for sure where the claim in the program notes comes from. My guess is that Bernstein was a regular with the NY Phil up until his death in 1990. How many weeks he conducted or how often I can’t say.

  3. I just returned from the Saturday night performance. I thought this was the most earthbound, unsensuous, badly balanced “Daphnis” I have ever heard, and I have heard the SSO perform it under two other conductors — Gerard Schwarz and George Cleve — both of whom did truly beautiful things with it. There was no sense of hushed wonder, no sense of the “air between the notes” — just a lumpy, undancelike mass of sound. The soloists in the Brahms didn’t seem up to the task; it was a competent read-through, little else. And what is this new fad among conductors to suddenly put the baton in the left hand and conduct “bareback”? Use a stick or don’t use one, but the back-and-forth is annoying as hell to watch.

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