By Elaine Schmidt, Journal Sentinel, January 27, 2019
Big sounds, musical depth and standing ovations rang out in Uihlein Hall Saturday night during Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s program of music by Bartok, Tchaikovsky and Still.
Playing under the baton of guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein and joined by pianist Orli Shaham, the orchestra presented Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and William Grant Still's “Poem for Orchestra.”
Shaham gave a commanding, powerful performance of the Bartok concerto, playing with a big, warm sound that was full of sometimes-bold and sometimes-subtle shifts in timbre and color.
Her performance was about more than just power and sound. Shaham brought emotional depth to the piece, from soaring first-movement statements and glowing energy in the final movement, to exquisitely voiced and shaped phrases in a deeply expressive second movement.
Weilerstein and the orchestra responded to her expressive, sonically rich interpretation as though engaging in a heartfelt conversation. Frequently looking over his shoulder at Shaham’s hands, Weilerstein created a seamless performance that brought the audience to its feet.
The themes of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”) may be etched in the minds of music lovers, but somehow that familiarity makes hearing the piece in a live performance something to be anticipated rather than taken for granted.
From heavy sighs in the strings, delivered in the thick, plaintive sounds that are part of Tchaikovsky’s musical signature, to strong, rousing brass lines, fluid solos from various instruments and audience-enveloping full-orchestra sounds, this was an engaging, exciting performance.
Weilerstein and the orchestra played with precision and superb communication, both between podium and players and between individuals and sections.
They brought elegance and grace to Tchaikovsky’s long, achingly beautiful phrases, crackling energy built of taut playing and brisk tempos to more strident, martial sections and artful, soulful expression to solo passages.
The evening ended with a standing, cheering ovation.
The evening opened with a riveting performance of William Grant Still’s 1944 “Poem for Orchestra.” Weilerstein and the Milwaukee Symphony gave a taut, well-balanced performance of the expressive, cinematic piece.