Beyond the sound, what'll happen? Lipsky remains a very musical conductor, and his reappointment to another five years as the symphony's music director last year shows his dedication. But as his decade here has shown, Lipsky is infrequently an inspiring leader. His performances are rarely marred by ragged ensemble but only occasionally show inspired playing, and both are necessary for the Ninth's technically difficult and emotionally demanding finale. And though Lipsky's interpretations are almost always direct and effective, they too often lack depth and passion. Most importantly, the first time Lipsky led Beethoven's Ninth here, he was new to town and had something to prove; does he still?
And how about the orchestra? Though the core is solid and the principals are generally excellent, they sounded scrawny and scrappy at the edges for awhile after the departures of Borders' and Pfizer's underwriting money. They rebuilt last season and proved it by playing tough repertoire well. But Beethoven's Ninth isn't just tough repertoire; it's one of the peaks of Western art, and it'll take more than musicality, dedication, and technique to bring it off. It'll take inspiration and joy. Do Lipsky and the symphony have it in them?
[Originally published in September, 2012.]