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Conductor, Driver a Formidable Duo with LPO

by Joe Shriner

On Saturday, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra gave a masterful concert to a mostly full house at Mahalia Jackson Theater, presenting works by Stravinsky, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky.


The audience was dazzled by up-and-coming conductor Yaniv Dinur’s thoughtful and inspired interpretations of all works. The second act, which presented Tchaikovsky’s famous Piano Concerto No. 1, featured the lively and effortless performance style of internationally renowned Danny Driver on piano.


Though the absence of the LPO's celebrated conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto may have initially raised eyebrows for his diehard admirers, already by intermission murmurs of Mr. Dinur’s merit and execution could be heard in stairwells and over drinks in the theater lobby. This approval was not unfounded. Smartly dressed and bespectacled, Dinur’s towering height and youthful exuberance brought forward an authority and control over his form. In addition to having a patent understanding of the pieces, the Israeli's interaction with the orchestra encouraged an infusion of spark and gracefulness into mainstream repertoire, as well as the compositions less commonly performed.


This is actually not the first Dinur has performed with the LPO. In 2011, New Orleans was host to the League of American Orchestra’s Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview. Among six conductors who presented their skills, Dinur was widely regarded as the finest, showing expertise over a diverse number of pieces by Beethoven, Strauss, and Bernstein.


Saturday evening kicked off with Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, performed by a reduced orchestra of woodwinds and brass. Conductors have interpreted this piece in numerous ways since its first premiere in 1921, and not all of them successfully. Even the premiere itself, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, was considered disastrous by Stravinsky, who later stated that Koussevitzky “executed the work, in firing-squad fashion.” Led by Dinur, however, the performance was smooth and direct, highlighting the rich timbre of the winds without overstating their presence, thus creating a robust mixture of sounds.


Next up was Sibelius’s Symphony No. 6, which the LPO performed with a blend of composed tranquility and éclat. It is noteworthy that Dinur was able to conduct this lengthy and somewhat sinuous orchestral piece without a score. The violas are prominently displayed in this symphony, and they did not disappoint, as they soothed the audience with fluid complexity.


After intermission, Mr. Driver took to the stage. Though a resident of London, Driver's presence in New Orleans last weekend was something of a homecoming for him. In addition to having performed several times with the LPO, including the U.S. premier of York Bowen’s Third Piano Concerto in 2009, he is the husband of former LPO Resident Conductor Rebecca Miller, who in her three year post-Katrina tenure conducted over 40 concerts a year. Both Driver and Miller established roots in New Orleans during this period, buying a home in Uptown and celebrating the birth of their first child, Katya, soon after arriving.


Accompanying the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Conceto No. 1, Driver exhibited ease in his superb playing and style that was as satisfying to listen to as it was to watch. His cool posture, a bit crouched as he leaned into the keyboard, reminiscent of Glenn Gould, connoted his aplomb and prowess over the piece. Often, when not playing, he would turn his head to the orchestra, as if fully entwined with them, then casually sway his head back to play.


The difficult and vigorous third movement was performed flawlessly, capping off an impressive showing of Driver and Dinur alike, and resulting in a thunderous standing ovation for the orchestra from the audience.


Conductor Prieto will return for an evening of music featuring even more Russian composers (including Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9) on April 6. Check out the LPO website for more details.

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