“On Thursday night at the Kennedy Center, I watched one of the most charismatic conductors I’ve seen all year lead the National Symphony Orchestra in one of the most energetic performances I’ve heard all season.
[…]we’re starting with Yamada, who led the NSO with a mix of finesse and electricity. He’s a full-body kind of conductor, very tiptoes-to-fingertips. Even his eyebrows did some heavy lifting in the opener — Glazunov’s Concert Waltz No. 2 in F — imparting welcome softness and buoyancy to the strings that made the waltzes shimmer.
Yamada, originally from Japan and now based in Berlin (and soon to embark on a new role as chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England), seemed at ease switching between the modes and moods of the rest of the evening’s program: a demanding pairing of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto and Rachmaninoff’s second symphony.
Yamada’s nimbleness made him a fine fit with guest pianist Stewart Goodyear, whose incisive attack of Tchaikovsky’s 1874 concerto made for one of the most memorable performances of it I’ve ever seen. Goodyear is a player of multiple personalities: His body bowed tight through the first movement — a gargoyle hammering octaves. He lent tenderness to the staccatos of the second and imbued its dizzying runs with painterly depth. And he seemed to disappear completely into the cadenzas of the finale, his playing crisp, lively and hungry.
The crest of its finish was met with four standing ovations, which Goodyear rewarded with a short encore, the second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 in C minor (“Pathetique”), played with such grace it had to be more than a goodbye.
[…]the Rachmaninoff was a showcase of Yamada’s powers at the podium — watching him awaken the mounting storm at the end of its long first movement was immensely satisfying. He brought freedom and ease to the third movement adagio (a favorite of any Eric Carmen fan). And he smiled through the soaring finale, summoning its cresting melodies like great waves — the symphony awash in memories of itself.
The performance also was a credit to Yamada and the NSO’s ability to remain on task and stay focused.”