11/12 New York Philharmonic @ Avery Fischer Hall
Haydn- Symphony No. 95
Martinú-Incantation, Piano Concerto No. 4
Sibelius- Symphony No. 1
Xian Zhang-Conductor, Garick Ohlsson-Pianist
An enjoyable concert to attend. I don’t want to go on at length about glass ceilings and whatever, but I will say it was really nice to see a woman conducting and doing a very nice job. Ms. Zhang was full of boundless energy, extremely emphatic, delineating every phrase with her hands while keeping strict time with her baton. This was effective in the rendering of the Haydn symphony-full of the spirit of dance, with the woodwinds and brass following along nicely. The cello solo by principal Carter Bray was a lovely standout in the work. I could have been deaf and still known the shape and contour of the music given Ms. Zhang’s conducting-she is a woman who knows what she wants and expresses it though her movements, as opposed to some conductors who leave many phrases to the orchestra’s decision.
The Martinú piece was a work I had never heard before, and was intriguing. A “modern” work couched in the terms of classic tonality, it was a dialogue between the orchestra and piano in two movements. The two movement structure was rather abrupt and strange (maybe I’ve just gotten too used to the three movement structure and need to broaden my horizons.) Pianist Garick Ohlsson threw himself into the work, sounding poised and precise even in the rather percussive parts of the work that involved almost banging out large dissonant chords on the piano. At times the orchestra and the pianist seemed to be playing different works, although they did join together to play some beautiful melodies. To me, the piece had the air of unfinished work, as if there was more to be said.
The Sibelius piece that closed the work had all the energy required to thrill, showcasing the themes of the Finnish woods. The drama of the piece was apparent in Ms. Zhang’s strong accents and the power of the brass choir that is an important part of the piece. At times the dynamics and contrasts between the different sections did not balance, but otherwise the dramatic big-orchestra writing that is the heart of this piece was controlled and exuberant. I would have preferred if the programmers had taken a risk and put the Martinú at the end, to set off the interest contrast, and the connection between it and the Sibelius. But I guess we must stick to the old concerto before the intermission model (stuffy orchestras!)
I hope that Ms. Zhang will be back with the NYPhil (as their former assistant conductor, this seems likely.) She is a lively and engaging conductor who would be perfect to go see if you are new to classical music or are trying to get a timid friend enthused. Her clear and sharp conducting combined with her energy throughout the night was endearing and exciting.
Until next time!