The Associated Press, October 4, 2007
Beethoven: 9. Symphony, Carnegie Hall, 3 October 2007
Star-studded Lucerne Festival Orchestra makes US debut with Robertson as sub for ailing maestro
NEW YORK: Sometimes, the best laid plans go astray.
Conductor Claudio Abbado was to have brought the Swiss orchestra he helped found four years ago to Carnegie Hall for the ensemble's U.S. premiere.

But last month, health problems forced the 74-year-old Italian maestro to cancel his schedule through October, including Wednesday night's gala opening of Carnegie's 117th season.

Abbado, who had stomach cancer surgery seven years ago, did not specify his latest illness but said he hoped to return to conducting in November.

Carnegie's show went on Wednesday with American conductor David Robertson at the helm of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

It is not the first time Robertson subbed at Carnegie for an ailing conductor. In February 2002, he led the Saint Louis Symphony with only 30 minutes of rehearsal to fill in for its music director, Hans Vonk. A year after that triumphant appearance, he was named Vonk's successor.

Robertson rose to the occasion again — this time leading the star-studded Lucerne orchestra in stunning performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto with soloist Murray Perahia.

One could speculate that this might have been the way the deaf composer would have wanted to hear these masterpieces — filled with contrasts of precipitously powerful punches after suddenly whispered sections; stretched out tempos followed by manic meters that bordered on being maniacal. Afterall, Beethoven was known as the composer who grabbed fate by the throat.

But as the fast passages galloped by, the 49-year-old Robertson maintained control and avoided wandering into excess. Exuding confidence and elegance with his sweeping gestures, erect posture and pirouettes on the podium, Robertson brought an exciting sense of newness to works that have been performed many times. For instance, during the first hushed appearance of the "Ode to Joy," the basses stood out over the usually dominant cellos, providing an unusual balance.

Perahia, who has been studying the original versions of Beethoven's piano sonatas, also turned in an energized account of the concerto. The 60-year-old American pianist's graceful yet passionate playing showed no signs of the hand injury that twice disrupted his career. Some of his accented entrances were so electric that they jolted people out of their seats.

Solo singers Reinhard Hagen, Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Larsson and Melanie Diener also gave strong performances in the symphony, as did the Westminster Symphonic Choir.

The orchestra musicians, who rocked and rolled with their instruments like boats tossing in a stirring sea of sound, had no trouble keeping up with Robertson.

The ensemble, made up of the youthful Mahler Chamber Orchestra and leading veteran European musicians such as violinist Kolja Blacher and cellist Clemens Hagen, meets in August and performs at the two-week summer Lucerne Festival. In its first performances outside Switzerland, it went to Rome in 2005, Tokyo in 2006 and the BBC Proms in England two months ago, all under the baton of Abbado.

Abbado last appeared at Carnegie in 2001, leading the Berlin Philharmonic in an emotional opening-night concert three weeks after 9/11 and 1 1/2 weeks after the death of violinist Isaac Stern, Carnegie Hall's longtime president.

The best laid plans may have gone astray this year because of Abbado's illness. But Robertson was the right pinch hitter, and the sell-out audience rewarded him with a seven-minute standing ovation through five rounds of bows.

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