This must have been delightful: The New York Philharmonic played — and staged — Petrushka, with the musicians as dancers and actors. Here’s what happened, as described by Anthony Tommasini in his New York Times review:
In this “Petrushka” the musicians, many wearing Russian hats and jackets, played the piece and also the rowdy crowd participating in the festivities, stomping their boots in unison with the downbeats and swaying to the swings of the music like the orchestral equivalent of a wave at a baseball stadium. On a screen above the orchestra, there were live video close-ups of groups of players enjoying tea from a samovar or passing around plates of caviar on crackers. With every drum roll, the players stood up and switched seats: an ultimate musical chairs.
Then, suddenly, the conductor Alan Gilbert, wearing a long, satiny coat, leapt from the podium and turned to the audience, taking the role of the magician who introduces the three puppets he controls (or so he thinks), who become the main characters of the story: Petrushka, a clown; Columbine, a ballerina; and a mysterious Moor.
Not your standard concert! “Is this the future of the American orchestra?” Tony asks in his review. “Let’s hope so.”
Stravinsky’s ballet La baiser de la fée was also on the program, danced by dancers. The whole thing was conceived and directed by the brilliant designer/director Doug Fitch, and the Petrushka part was first done a few years ago at the University of Maryland, where it was one of the projects James Ross (in charge of orchestras and conducting at the school) did to expand what an orchestra is. And clearly bearing fruit at the Philharmonic.
The future of American orchestras? Or one marvelous part of it? I can only end by quoting Tony: Let’s hope so!