New, a New Zealander with a burgeoning résumé — director of Ontario’s Hamilton Philharmonic, visiting privileges at the St. Louis and Dallas symphonies, a long list of guest engagements — displayed a vigorous, more-is-more style. Each beat was animated with a tight, controlled rebound; each moment was filled with movement, a stream of gestures seeming to tag the music’s every turn. It made for a busy, bustling podium presence. But the details were always there; New’s grasp of the scores’ elements was apparent.
Such assurance marked “Rainphase,” a 2015 essay by New’s countrywoman Salina Fisher, evoking the wet weather of Wellington, with slow-shifting orchestral hues interspersed with plucked, tapped precipitation and scraped and respired gusts of wind. The conductor confidently managed transitions between sound effects and tone, and between every-player-for-themselves texture and coordinated scoring. Most crucially, she was true to the work’s equanimity. Much of the appeal of “Rainphase” is Fisher’s patient faith in her music’s reflective pace.
Some of that moderation lingered into the orchestra’s prompt deposit on Beethoven’s 250th-anniversary year: his Piano Concerto No. 4, with soloist Yefim Bronfman. The orchestra took up the work’s famously gentle piano opening with notable deliberateness, taking some time to find the proper gear. But New’s tight leash also yielded dividends. The slow movement’s negotiation, with Bronfman seeming to gradually bring the brusque orchestra into his implacably understated orbit, was superbly realized, while the finale coursed with stunt-driver precision. Bronfman’s technique was on impressive display — I would happily listen to him practice trills for an hour — but the real star was his touch, every note landing with the deep, measured heft and rounded gleam of an ingot.
Gustav Holst’s familiar survey of “The Planets” put the cost-benefit of New’s vigilant style into relief. Her emphatic gestures sometimes front-loaded the force of more assertive sections — Mars’s opening martial advance was virtually all climax — and the music had little chance to breathe unaided the air of other worlds. On the other hand, the playing was exceptional, with crisp ensemble and big, balanced sound. And conductor and orchestra produced numerous instances of meticulously calibrated beauty, from the saturated glaze underpinning “Venus” to the long, keenly judged fade of “Neptune” (with the women of the University of Maryland Concert Choir providing spectral offstage glimmer). If you’re going to voyage to distant orbits, there’s much to be said for a firm hand at the wheel.
The program repeats Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Kennedy Center and Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Anthem. kennedy-center.org/nso.