A Young Man Pays a Visit to New York

Garrick Ohlsson
New York Times

There have long been calls to bring fresh blood into the ranks of orchestra conductors. Changes are finally happening. Alan Gilbert, 41, will become the music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2009, the same season that Gustavo Dudamel, 27, takes charge at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Now comes Lionel Bringuier, the fast-rising French conductor, all of 21, an assistant to Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the chief associate conductor at the Orchestre de Bretagne in France. Mr. Bringuier made a good first impression in his New York debut on Tuesday night, conducting the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall.

He began his training as a cellist at the music academy in Nice, his hometown. Later, during his conservatory years in Paris, he also studied piano, choral singing and jazz. His conducting career took off when he won a competition in Besançon three years ago.

Mr. Bringuier drew lively playing from the Mostly Mozart orchestra, though with its demanding schedule the festival does not allow guest conductors much opportunity to show what they can really do.

The program began with Mozart's overture to "Le Nozze di Figaro," a piece the players could surely perform from memory. Still, Mr. Bringuier led a nice account, brisk but not rushed, with just enough space for fleeting lyrical moments to breathe. He did not seize on this staple to prove anything. Instead he seemed content simply to conduct the music with vitality and grace.

Mozart's mighty Piano Concerto No. 25 in C presented another level of challenge for Mr. Bringuier. He was fortunate to have the fine pianist Garrick Ohlsson, a clear-thinking, collegial and inventive musician, as a partner here. As they walked out together, the tall, broad-shouldered Mr. Ohlsson towered over the slight and studious-looking Mr. Bringuier. If the young conductor was at all nervous about his New York debut, meeting Mr. Ohlsson during rehearsals must have been like encountering a friendly giant at the intimidating Lincoln Center.

Overall the performance was terrific, though the playing in the opening orchestral exposition was a little tentative. The first phrases of the piece come in a series of short, rhythmically clipped and magisterial phrases, and the execution was not quite solid.

But soon the conductor and orchestra settled into a groove, and once the piano part began, Mr. Ohlsson centered the performance, playing with his customary clarity, command and wit. He and Mr. Bringuier brought elegance to the beguiling slow movement and zipped through the sprightly finale with zest and humor that still allowed for lyrical turns of phrase in dreamy passages.

After intermission Mr. Bringuier conducted an energetic account of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. The first movement was especially strong. Through self-restraint, Mr. Bringuier conveyed the "what's going on here?" suspense of the Adagio introduction, before segueing deftly into the bumptious Allegro .

Mr. Bringuier makes his New York Philharmonic debut this coming season. And given the enthusiastic ovation he received for this debut, he will no doubt be back for the Mostly Mozart Festival.