Oh my god! oh my god! You're not going to BELIEVE who I was sitting next to at the orchestra today! Krzysztof Penderecki! In the flesh! No, really, I swear! He was sitting right across the aisle! I could have reached out and touched him! I would have needed arms 7 feet long, but you know! Oh my god! oh my god!
The worst part is, I didn't even realize it was Penderecki until after the performance ended. There I am applauding away, when Dutoit turns and gestures in my general direction, and the next thing I know the genial old man with the overgrown beard sitting opposite me is hobbling down the aisle while the audience rises to its feet. It had occurred to me that Penderecki may be somewhere in the audience, given that it was the US premiere of his Concerto Grosso No. 1 for three cellos, but who would have imagined he'd be so close?! I was so totally overwhelmed I barely even noticed that Han-Na Chang was sitting two rows in front of me in the second half.
The Concerto Grosso itself was glorious. Not quite as striking as some of Penderecki's early work, perhaps, but profound nonetheless, combining melancholy with savagery, 19 century romanticism with propulsively modern rhythms. Most of the time, the interplay between the three cellos sounded like it could have come straight out of Dvorak, but then the piece would shift unexpectedly into higher gear, the combined menace of bass and percussion reminding us that this was, after all, Penderecki.
And the fact that the Concerto was preceded by Dumbarton Oaks (which I never tire of, though this is the third time I'm hearing it performed this year) and followed by Sibelius' First Symphony, only made things better.
I have to say that from my perspective this season is turning out to be the Philadelphia Orchestra's most promising ever. Three concerts in, and already I've got to hear Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Lutoslawski, Penderecki and Sibelius. Even the one 'classical' piece they played - Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante - was one I'd never heard before, which made listening to its unlikely but sublime combination of bassoon, oboe, violin and cello a genuine revelation. Now if only they keep this up.