Gergiev seemed uncharacteristically subdued. Rather than trying to incite the orchestra to new heights of energy as he usually does, he was in the unfamiliar position of needing to restrain it. The Shostakovich 10th, however, was quite fine. It wasn’t exactly a brooding performance, and some of the wind playing throughout the evening was a bit callow, but it had a lot of love and power; the principal French horn played so beautifully that it seemed only appropriate for him to brandish his horn over his head during the ovations, and the concertmaster also was very fine. The encore offered the American touch that may have been lacking: the overture to Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” complete with a banjo solo from a switch-hitting orchestra violinist.
Everything about the SMI orchestra’s event, half the length of the NYO’s, was on a gentler scale. The program paid tribute to two composers celebrating anniversaries this year: Verdi (a dramatic reading of the overture to “La forza del destino”) and Britten (the Four Sea Interludes from “Peter Grimes”). Elizabeth Schulze, a respected and thoroughly competent conductor who has been leading this institute’s orchestra for 13 years, seemed to have spent most of the rehearsal time on Brahms’s Third Symphony, which sounded rich and thoughtful. The Britten, unfortunately, missed the mark; both the emotion and the musical precision were a work in progress. That didn’t really matter, because this performance felt like a chance for gifted young players (and there was some great string playing) to try out new things. The music, Schulze said in comments from the stage, was new to them.