I had a feeling we were in for a treat with sensational pianist Yuja Wang performing with the New York Philharmonic for the first time in New York, and with conductor Jaap van Zweden making his debut as well. But I didn't know just how delightful it would be.
Yuja Wang performed Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the orchestra on the first half of the concert. I'm not familiar with the work, so it's hard for me to judge it, but she played the hell out of the piece. Ms. Wang was in complete control of the piece, with a captivating performance that wowed the audience. I could have used a bit more balance from the orchestra, as the other musicians covered the piano in places. But she shone through the entire work, ending with a flourish that brought the Avery Fisher Hall crowd to its feet. Ms. Wang played not one but two encores, and I thought that the enthusiasm of the crowd might force her to play all night.
After intermission, the Philharmonic retook the stage for Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Mr. van Zweden led the orchestra through a terrific rendition of this warhouse of a piece. I've heard several conductors lead the Philharmonic in Mahler's 1st, and Mr. van Zweden's version was as exciting and absorbing as any of them. He leapt, lunged, and nearly danced on the podium, all while maintaining a clear beat and easy-to-read cues. During the Ländler I half-expected him to show us the dance itself. He swayed a little in the third movement, putting on as much of a show as the orchestra. The fourth movement was an explosion of sound and the conclusion of the work (with the horns and a trombone standing for once!) brought the audience to its feet.
While no performance of Mahler's 1st Symphony will ever live up to that 2009 performance with Alan Gilbert (mere months before assuming the post as the Philharmonic's music director), Mr. van Zweden's work tonight was a close second. I hope the Philharmonic can bring him back to New York for a return engagement soon. I look forward to seeing him on a podium here again.