Gemma New makes impressive NWS debut with a fresh, dramatic “Eroica”
By Lawrence Budmen
South Florida Classical review
February 12, 2022
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major is one of those history-changing works that defined the composer’s creative voice and revivified the musical canon.
On Friday night Gemma New conducted the New World Symphony in a reading of this monumental score that swept away the cobwebs of routine and brought out the revolutionary originality of the “Eroica.”
New, musical director of the Hamilton (Ontario) Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, was substituting for Michael Tilson Thomas in her podium debut at the New World Center. The exceptional music-making the New Zealand-born conductor displayed provided ample reason for inviting her back soon.
With New’s fleet pacing, the opening Allegro con brio was light on its feet and refreshingly bereft of heavy textures. The performance achieved a sensible middle ground between the spare vibrato of period ensembles and big-band modern orchestra. String and brass attacks were crisp, the movement flowed organically with dynamics beautifully calibrated across a wide range. There was steady, forward momentum in the famous funeral march of the second movement, with New’s balancing of sections superb; the wind principals excelled in their solo lines.
The Scherzo proved invigorating through rhythmic urgency and clarity of the lower string figurations; the three horn players’ blending and accuracy took special honors in the treacherous trio.
The Allegro molto finale can easily turn episodic but New brought tension and sweep to the entire theme and variations. Lithe spirit abounded in the initial iterations of the melody (written by Beethoven for his Contredances and Creatures of Prometheus ballet score). With all sections in top form, there was a sense of inevitability from the movement’s first bars to a rousing coda (which, for once, did not emerge anticlimactic). This reading of the “Eroica” achieved that rare quality of genuine greatness. New, stepping down from the podium, joined in applauding the individual players and full ensemble as she asked them to stand.
Prior to intermission, Christian Tetzlaff took the solo spotlight for Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto.
New was totally immersed in Berg’s sound world. She could whip the orchestra into a frenzy in fierce climaxes and achieve the most supple detailing of inner voices. There was pathos in the Bach quotations and the melding of orchestral paths with the solo violin was well-nigh perfect.
There is one remaining opportunity to hear Gemma New, a terrifically gifted young conductor and a great violinist in masterworks by two contrasting B’s—Beethoven and Berg.
The New World Symphony will repeat the program 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the New World Center in Miami Beach.
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