Guests Jon Kimura Parker and Eiji Oue add grace and flash to Minnesota Orchestra’s Tchaikovsky
REVIEW | 12.15.2013 | by Rob Hubbard | St. Paul Pioneer Press
Flamboyance is Eiji Oue’s calling card. If there’s one thing the former Minnesota Orchestra music director learned from his mentor, Leonard Bernstein, it’s to give the audience an exciting presence on the podium. His gestures are big, his body language invariably colorful.
Since his departure in 2003, the Minnesota Orchestra has gone on to become one of the world’s most acclaimed orchestras, this week earning its third “Best Orchestral Performance” Grammy nomination in seven years and its second consecutive. It bears remembering that many of the standout musicians in the orchestra were hired during Oue’s tenure. Alas, its musicians have been locked out for 14 months in a contract dispute and are now hanging out their own shingle by producing a concert series.
On Saturday night, conductor Oue was reunited with many of his onetime colleagues at the Minneapolis Convention Center for a concert that proved an ideal match for his flamboyance: A program full of Pyotr Tchaikovsky. It was a fine showcase for the orchestra’s way with gushing, heart-on-its-sleeve romanticism, as well as the skills of guest pianist Jon Kimura Parker.
Few piano concertos can match Tchaikovsky’s First for high drama, and Parker offered an interpretation of it that flowed gracefully from shouts to whispers, explosions to pensive agitation. Throughout, the pianist eschewed excessive showiness in favor of finding sadness where some express histrionics, palpable tension instead of merely rapid-fire flash. His shifts in mood and dynamics were remarkably quick and smooth, especially during a finale that found him stuttering out staccato chords before floridly sweeping up and down the keys, intricately and accurately.
It’s to Parker’s credit that he wasn’t distracted by Oue, who turned to face the soloist more often than a conductor customarily does, often leaning down to peer at him at close range. That ended up costing some crispness in the orchestra’s entrances, but it was one of several examples of Oue seeming more intent upon putting on a show than offering clear direction to the orchestra.
That was certainly an issue during the opening collection of music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, “The Nutcracker.” Cutting a dashing figure in long shiny black tails and scarlet rose in his lapel, Oue used his hands to seemingly sculpt sounds in the air, rather than offering clear cues or rhythms. Yet the music sounded quite good, just as it did on the closing performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, the ensemble tight, the soloists invariably impressive.