Originally published Friday, April 22, 2011 at 10:03 AM

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Review: Slatkin, Thibaudet take Seattle Symphony audiences on a jazzy jaunt

Review of Seattle Symphony performance on April 21, 2011, with Leonard Slatkin, guest conductor, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano.

Special to The Seattle Times


Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Leonard Slatkin, guest conductor, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano, noon Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $17-$107 (206-215-4747 or



The Seattle Symphony's current program has a couple of attention-grabbing features. It has world-class guest artists: legendary American conductor Leonard Slatkin and French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the latter making his Seattle Symphony debut. And then there's the intriguing pairing of Gershwin and Tchaikovsky.

Do kosher hot dogs go with borscht? One way to find out.

But under this radar of the obvious flies a wonderful surprise, in the form of a newish work by Northwest-born composer Cindy McTee. "Double Play" for Orchestra, premiered less than a year ago by Slatkin in Detroit, is an absolutely crackerjack piece, one of those rare works that is immediately accessible without saccharine. The first hearing is deeply satisfying, with enough substance and delight to invite repeated listening.

The first movement, "The Unquestioned Answer," plays with the themes of Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question," with fascinating textures from the percussion section and an air of mystery from the harmonic bed of strings. The second movement, "Tempus Fugit," has enough drive and energy to give the "Peter Gunn" theme a run for its money. As the Latin title suggests, time flies, as do violin bows. The composer was at the concert on Thursday night, and she must have been pleased with both the performance and the enthusiastic response.

When Thibaudet trotted out to the piano to perform the Gershwin Concerto in F, there was an immediate energy in the room that everyone knew would be channeled into the music. The jaunty jazz chords in the brass introduced the bluesy piano solo of the first movement, and it was not long before Thibaudet proved he is a pianist who can do anything. There is enough range just in the first movement to show off lyrical sensitivity, technical mastery and syncopated jive. The quieter second movement, it must be said, had a co-star: trumpeter David Gordon's extended solos evoked a beautiful New York evening, Fred Astaire strolling down Park Avenue. The driving conclusion to the concerto had the audience standing and roaring.

The lush Russian romanticism of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 proved surprisingly compatible with Gershwin's American flavors. Slatkin's conducting has always been a wonder of expression and discipline. He is able to move large ensembles through tight places with great precision, without losing any of the heart in the music. They traveled a complex journey together from somber woodwinds to glorious soaring strings, and sent the crowd home very happy.

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