The good news about the new tent at Wolf Trap is the sound system, which does an excellent job with a symphony orchestra. It is somewhat better, in fact, than the old system in the late, lamented Filene Center. The general ambiance of the tent, when classical music is on the agenda, is something like that of the shed at Tanglewood, although they are quite different structurally.
The bad news is that the roof leaks in a few places. It had an acid test last night when subjected to a thunderstorm that was even more vigorous than the conducting of Rohan Joseph and the playing of the American Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the kind of storm this tent has probably never seen before--the kind that hardly ever happens anywhere, though it seems to be a regular feature of June evenings at Wolf Trap.
The storm announced its intentions at the beginning of the last movement of Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto with an outburst of thunder, fortissimo and sostenuto, that modulated into a gentle patter of raindrops on the roof for the first few segments of the rondo and then gradually increased its pressure until the music was nearly drowned out by the end of the movement.
Before then, when the performance could be heard, it seemed to be devoted largely to a discussion--almost a debate--about the proper tempos between the orchestra and pianist Malinee Peris. Most of the time, she seemed to favor slower tempos, though for a while in the finale she demonstrated that a piano can play faster than an orchestra when it wants to. At moments when they absolutely had to agree, the orchestra and soloist managed to find a modus vivendi. On the whole, Peris showed a seasoned sense of Beethoven's style and a strong, flexible pulse. The orchestra produced some marvelous tone and was generally well-balanced with the soloist, though it had occasional small problems of ensemble.
Peris was given a standing ovation at the end. I'm not sure she deserved that; there were some wrong notes that may have been her problem or the piano's. But considering the conditions under which she played, she probably deserved a medal.
The second half of the program was devoted to Bruckner, a specialty of this orchestra, and the ensemble rose to glorious tonal heights for the big moments of his Seventh Symphony. Elsewhere, the interpretation sometimes seemed a bit disjointed, emphasizing discontinuities in the music which needed no emphasis.
This is a very young orchestra, two years in existence and well under 30 in its average age. It has the virtues and problems to be expected of such a group: freshness, vitality and a lack of discipline, which is not always helped by the conductor. Joseph conducts without a baton, and sometimes his beat seems flexible almost to the point of nondefinition. But at other times, perhaps when he becomes more absorbed in the music, his conducting and the orchestra's ensemble become much more coherent.