Royal Concertgebauw Orchestra

Sunday I attended an afternoon concert at the Concertgebouw. It was without a doubt one of the finest concerts I've ever heard. Not only is the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra one of the top orchestras in the world but the grand hall has astounding acoustics. I was sitting stage left, quite a bit left, in row 11. The cellos were over on the far right and I felt like I was sitting right in front of them. I've always thought that Orchestra Hall and the Opera House in Detroit have excellent acoustics and I think they do, but the Concertgebouw seems to be on another plane.

The soloists were two young pianists who happen to be brothers and Dutch. Arthur and Lucas Jussen, only now in their mid-twenties, have been playing for more than 10 years. I think it's safe to say that they are at the beginning of what will be a stellar career.

They played Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. I've heard some very good pianists over the years but no one has played as enthusiastically and energetically as these two. From my seat, I could see Arthur's face as he played and I could watch Lucas's hands. Technically, they sounded flawless. I'm not a musician so don't have that perpective or appreciation nor do I know much of anything about music theory but I can tell when a piece has been knocked out of the park. And that happened at this concert. At one point, Arthur looked at the orchestra a big grin on his face as if to say "Hey, this is a blast. You guys rock." I've never seen that from a classical pianist. At some jazz concerts, yes, where it's so obvious that the band is feeding off each other. But most classical pianists seem to be very serious about their work and don't show much obvious emotion while they're playing. Intensity, yes, of course. But joy and happiness, not so much. After the piece ended, both of them leaped up hugged the conductor and the concert master and stood on the stage with huge, radiant smiles. For their encore, they played a variation of "Geef Mij Maar Amsterdam" a Dutch song that was popularized by Johnny Jordaan. (I only recognized it because it was sung by the raucous crowd at the Twee Zwaantjes, and it's a catchy melody.)

Not only were the soloists oustanding, the rest of the program was a delight. The conductor, Stephane Deneve, led the orchestra with gusto. The way that he moved his body, bending nearly in two at the waist, with his long tightly curled hair flopping all around, I was afraid he was going to bounce right off the podium. But he was in total control of the orchestra at all times, coaxing a little more sound here, quieting the percussion there.  A most impressive performance.

It was quite a show.

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