Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

Like other major American orchestras, the Atlanta Symphony recently went through contract negotiations that nearly derailed the start of its season. The musicians forfeited a month of pay before a new agreement, with reduced salaries and benefits, was reached in late September.

If the musicians are demoralized, it certainly didn’t show in their terrific concert on Sunday evening at Carnegie Hall, where Robert Spano, the ensemble’s music director, conducted vividly hued interpretations of Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast.”

Bernstein experimented with various avant-garde techniques during his career, but abandoned those aesthetics for a melodic style that felt more natural to him. He described his “Chichester Psalms” as “the most accessible, B-flat-majorish tonal piece I’ve ever written.”

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus offered a radiant performance of this lovely, serene work, with the countertenor John Holiday as the expressive soloist. Mr. Spano also led a compelling rendition of the Walton piece; tightly wrought, immaculate performances by the orchestra and chorus meshed into an exciting whole. The baritone Brett Polegato rendered the dramatic elements even more arresting with his powerful, richly hued solos.

The concert began on an optimistic note with Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” Suite, featuring beautifully rendered woodwind solos. The orchestra eloquently conveyed each of the vigorous, enigmatic and tender moods of this programmatic work, with its familiar quotation of the Shaker melody “Simple Gifts.”