Review: A notable departure and a proper debut dominate ASO concert

Pianist Jorge Federico Osorio began his study of Beethoven’s piano concertos Jan. 25 with an ending. His masterful performance of the fifth and final concerto, “Emperor,” kicked his residency off with a bang. Osorio returned to Symphony Hall Thursday to pick up in the middle.

By the time the night was over, his thoughtful, enchanting performance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra of Beethoven’s second and third piano concertos ended up as a secondary storyline to inner-ASO workings, both on- and offstage.

This week’s concerts mark the end of principal cellist Christopher Rex’s nearly 40-year tenure with the orchestra. He started his goodbye Thursday with a pre-concert chamber recital featuring concertmaster David Coucheron and pianist Julie Coucheron. Rex summed up his musical seniority during Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 5, impressing patrons who managed to show up at the hall in the midst of rush hour.

RELATED | ASO to celebrate Beethoven, Bernstein over next two seasons

The other notable HR matter from Thursday? Music director Robert Spano’s continued recovery from bronchitis, which forced him to leave the stage during last weekend’s concerts. Assistant conductor Stephen Mulligan gamely filled in at the last minute on Saturday, and he has returned this week. Mulligan is normally in charge of the Atlanta Youth Symphony; this marked only his second chance to lead the ASO (and his first with proper rehearsal time).

Mulligan excelled in his pinch-hitting role, leading the ASO through proper readings of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and the two concertos. While Mulligan lacks the conducting intensity of Spano, he nonetheless molded an ensemble capable of alternately rendering bits of blistering Beethoven intensity and serving as a considerate but strong accompanist to Osorio.

Beethoven’s second and third piano concertos are packed with voluble piano runs, and Osorio played like a man who’s had the notes under his fingers for decades but can still find the breathtaking musicality at the heart of the works. These concertos also make extensive use of the orchestra. The ensemble is more than just a bystander to piano solos; it opens each concerto with significant introductory music, establishing tone and thematic content.

The evening’s intense look at earlier Beethoven works — his first symphony was published at 30, the second piano concerto arrived five years earlier — brought the ASO’s magnificent woodwind section to the fore. Extended passages led by principal flute Christina Smith and principal clarinet Laura Ardan supplied the music with an earthy richness, with the bassoon of principal Andrew Brady filling out the low end.

Bassist Michael Kurth, who has become the ensemble’s oft-programmed composer-in-residence, contributed to the start of the evening with an unscheduled addition. Under the guise of celebrating the birthdays of Rex and Mulligan, the ASO performed Kurth’s zany reimagining of “Happy Birthday to You,” replete with musical snippets from Beethoven symphonies. The piece had been performed only in rehearsal, as a surprise gift to the late bassist Jane Little, and the group rolled it out to mark Rex’s departure and the symphony’s continued celebration of all things Beethoven. Kicking things off with a bit of musical levity surely calmed new-conductor jitters, but there was no need to worry: With Mulligan, the ASO is in capable hands.


Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Jorge Federico Osorio

8 p.m. Feb. 1. Additional performance at 8 p.m. Feb. 3. $52-$107. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000,


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

Who won ‘The Rap Game’ season four?
Who won ‘The Rap Game’ season four?

Posted Saturday, February 24, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ o n his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog In a season where the kids often struggled in their pursuit to become stars, Jermaine Dupri gave the fourth season crown of “The Rap Game” to the delightfully fun Street Bud from Atlanta. This is the...
What covering the 2017 NRA convention was like

Last year’s National Rifle Association convention brought 80,000 people to downtown Atlanta, and on opening day I interviewed some of the nicest people I’d ever met . Given the heated protests that preceded the April 2017 event at the Georgia World Congress Center and the “fake news media&rdquo...
16th Street Baptist Church: Site of tragedy galvanized a movement
16th Street Baptist Church: Site of tragedy galvanized a movement

The importance of the 16th Street Baptist Church in the annals of African-American history can’t be overestimated. Not only was it the first black church to organize in Birmingham, Ala., it was the target in 1963 of the racially motivated bombing that killed four young girls and galvanized the civil rights movement. As a kid growing up in Philadelphia...
Insurance plans push healthier choices at grocery store
Insurance plans push healthier choices at grocery store

MINNEAPOLIS — Sandy Brezinski savored the savings last week when her preferred brand of organic tortilla chips went on sale. Not only did her grocery store discount the item to $2.99, a program offered through her employer’s health insurance knocked another $2 off the price. “You get that for 99 cents,” Brezinski said. &ldquo...
Walkability luring homebuyers to small town centers
Walkability luring homebuyers to small town centers

Anyone who has been tormented by Atlanta’s traffic may have wished for the option of ditching the car, if at least for the evening or weekend. Yet the metro area’s sprawl often means going for a gallon of milk or out to a movie means getting back behind the wheel. The dependency on vehicles that sprawl has created is a habit many homebuyers...
More Stories