There’s already been one public musical celebration of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra conductor laureate Raymond Leppard’s 80th birthday — a U of I Faculty Artist concert on September 17 at the Christel DeHaan Center (see NUVO’s Sept. 26 – Oct. 2 issue). It was packed to overflowing, with extra folding chairs brought in and available parking seemingly a mile away.
This was not the case last Friday at the Circle for the ISO’s own celebration of its 1987 to 2001 music director’s 80th, which scarcely filled half a house. Yet, more of a party atmosphere existed last weekend. On a screen descended from above the stage, we started with a seven-minute filmed homage to our internationally acclaimed maestro (put together by WFYI), including praise from our current music director Mario Venzago, as well as from ISO program annotator Marianne Tobias. Leppard’s entrance was marked by much standing applause.
Seemingly conducting with his usual vigor, Leppard began with a well-favored concert opener, the Carnival Overture of Antonin Dvorak. Not Leppard at his best, the performance etched out the composer’s carnival atmosphere in a routine manner — everything in its place but without much verve.
Next came the evening’s centerpiece and most rewarding offering: Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, written late in his life after Ravel had absorbed some Gershwin influences. Pianist Pascal Rogé showed both his sensitive musical abilities in the profound, contemplative slow movement and his dazzling technique in the fiery outer movements. Beginning with the crack of a whip, the first, and then the third movement scarcely give you time to catch your breath. Plus the third movement is over almost before you’ve realized it’s started. Following last spring’s release of Leppard, Rogé and the orchestra’s CD recording of two Mozart concertos, Rogé now showed he is as much a Ravelian as he is a Mozartean. Leppard and the orchestra stayed right with the Parisian born pianist all the way.
Leppard chose to end this concert with Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, Op. 55 (1908), a work he first played at his inaugural debut as a guest with the ISO in the early ‘80s, before the orchestra had moved from Clowes Hall. It’s a rather long, pastel symphony, its thematic material concealed beneath layers of colorful, nostalgia-evoking instrumentation. Leppard’s well wrought performance communicated his love for this work.