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Posts Tagged ‘Carnegie Hall’

12/15 Jean-Yves Thibaudet @ Carnegie Hall

I’ll just admit it up front: the reason I know about Jean-Yves Thibaudet is because I watched the movie Pride and Prejudice. Yes, it was that bit of pop culture that introduced me to this wonderful pianist. But, I’m happy to say, the same qualities that drew me to his playing in the soundtrack are just as admirable in his performance of classical repertoire. Mr. Thibaudet has a smooth, buttery sound that shimmers, particularly in the slow movement of songs. He plays each note and phrase with infinite care, truly crafting a piece from the music provided (I realized this as I tried to imitate his playing of the theme from Pride and Prejudice – I just could not play it with as much focus and poise as he did.) I was impressed last year when I heard  him play Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the New York Philharmonic, but I think his real realm is the recital, playing the piano like a symphony.

Tuesday he played a program of Ravel’s Miroirs and Pavane pour une infante défunte and Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3, giving symphonic and yet nuanced accounts of all three works. The Pavane was reflective, not as much a dance as a reflection, a meditation on a long deceased princess. Miroirs was Thibaudet’s chance to shine, which he did with shimmering scalar passages, delicate melodies, and an enthusiastic, full reading of the famous Alborada, throwing himself into the chords. The chimelike quality of the last movement was also quite lovely. Thibaudet’s way of ending movements by leaving his hands on the piano and letting the last tones of the final notes ring and fade away gave a good indication of just how closely Thibaudet was listening to every note that he played.

The final piece on the program was Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3, an impetuous, youthful orchestral work that pointed strongly to the symphonies that were to come. Though some of the large fast sections sounded unsure in the first movement, the piece as a whole was given an exciting and thoughtful reading. The slow middle section was sublime, and the excitement of the finish was felt by the audience. Thibaudet was able to unify the lovely voicing and shimmering tones that characterized his playing of Ravel with the symphonic sounds and big chords specific to the Brahms. He finished the evening off with a stunning encore performance of Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 118 No. 2, showing off the lyricism that is his true strength. Thibaudet is truly talented at making the piano sing, but in a complex voice all its own. His close attention to each note he plays certainly payed off in memorable, vivid accounts of each piece he played.

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12/13 John Adam’s El Nino @ Carnegie Hall

Orchestra of St. Luke’s

John Adams-Conductor

Most Christmas songs about the Nativity story put me in mind of a medieval painting – the infant Jesus with a halo, Mary in beautiful blue, looking serene. John Adam’s El Nino put me strongly in mind of the recent movie “The Nativity Story”, a realistic, no frills account of the humans involved in the birth of Christ. John Adams brought the same sensibility to his Nativity oratorio, using a variety of Hispanic poetry about birth and multiple biblical accounts to give personality to the story. The result was a serious, emotional, and reverential treatment of one of the most well-known stories ever told. Adams originally composed the work in 2000 as a “Christmas oratorio for the new millenium”, and I think he accomplished that goal.

The piece was set for a large orchestra (the impressive St. Luke’s Orchestra) with a choir and 6 vocal soloists- a bass-baritone, 3 countertenors, mezzo-soprano, and soprano. Each voice sang a different role (the most interesting casting being the 3 countertenors as the angel Gabriel-ethereal, to be certain), but was not confined to that role alone. The chorus seemed to play the part of the shepherds or angels, echoing the soloists or singing choruses in great waves of sound. Their parts and strength in 4. For with God no thing shall be impossible and 9.Shake the Heavens were powerful and reverential, echoing a faith both modern and ancient. Dawn Upshaw, singing mostly as Mary, portrayed the excitement as well as the confusion and sorrow of the young mother well in a vocal part full of interval leaps. Michelle DeYoung was a powerful narrator, mostly in Spanish, while bass baritone Eric Owens had a solid stage presence, mostly singing the role of Joseph. The three counter tenors, Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, and Steven Rickards sang well together, sounding otherworldly as the angel Gabriel. They also took an interesting turn as the 3 kings (I’m not sure if Adams was using the voices he had here or was trying to suggest something about the role the kings played…)

The orchestral accompaniment to the singers drew from a variety of sources, occasionally suggesting Latin rhythms and Baroque sounds, while at other times offering more murky modern sounds (although staying largely within the conventional sounds of the instruments.) The orchestra definitely functioned as the accompanist in the piece – the real drama was among the solo singers, but they did a fine job in support, helping to create an emotional atmosphere.

Adams’ piece offered an interesting, updated version of the Christmas story, although it was far too long. I thought it would have been perfect if the piece had ended at intermission, with the birth of Christ. While I was enthralled with the first “act”, my attention wandered during the second, especially as the piece went on what I felt were tangents that did not move it forward. The first half had a strong narrative drive, while the second seemed to move at a much more languid pace, finally ending with stories of Jesus from unpublished Gospels. However, the applause Adams earned from an enthusiastic crowd was certainly merited, and the length of the piece did not take away from its value as a significant oratorio for today.

For someone who dreads “Christmas music” and its trite tinny sound, El Niño was a refreshing reminder of the power and humanity of the story that started it all.

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12/4 Vladimir Feltsman @ Carnegie Hall

I can’t imagine what it would be like to give a solo recital. It’s one thing when your part of an orchestra or even the soloist in a concerto-at least the attention is difused a little. But when you’re a soloist, its just you, that piano, and over 2000 people who need to be captivated and entertained. On Friday Vladimir Feltsman was up to the challenge, drawing the audience into his performances of Schubert and Liszt Sonatas. Feltsman’s interpretations brought out the lyricism of each piece, instead of turning them into vehicles to show off his technical prowess (cough, Lang Lang, cough), which I enjoyed. The highlight of the night was definetely the Lizst Sonata in B minor, the last work on the program. Feltsman brought a collected presence to this work, showing off strong voicing and play between both hands. The virtuosic passages were played with piazazz, while the beautiful melody of the second movement sounded beautiful. The emphatic recapitulation at the end of the piece was as dramatic as Lizst coul have wished. A lovely encore of Lizst’s Liebestraum No. 3 finished the night off just right.

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11/11 The Berlin Philharmonic @ Carnegie Hall

 Brahms-Piano Quartet No. 1 arr. Schoenberg

 Brahms-Symphony No. 1

 Sir Simon Rattle-Conductor

 Having never seen the Berlin Philharmonic before, their concert on Wednesday was a true pleasure to attend. The program explained the orchestra’s compelling idea for their American tour- to pair the four Brahms symphonies they had recently recorded with works by Arnold Schoenberg, who was apparently a big fan of Brahms. This concert paired Schoenberg’s arrangement of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 with his first symphony, which gave interesting insight into each composer.

To be honest, I was not that familiar with Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1. I had listened to it once and really enjoyed it, so I was excited for the piece. In the arrangement one can see the beginnings of Brahms’ symphonies. The Schoenberg arrangement is very interesting, because in the first two movements it sticks closely to the original, but in the last two it becomes modern, bringing in percussion and calls from the horns that certainly update the piece. On the whole, it is a lovely rendering of the unexplored possibilities in the quartet form. The Berlin Philharmonic played with intensity and energy, sounding particularly great in the berserk final movement. The unity of the all the strings-truly, truly sounding like one single instrument was playing, the clarity of the lower strings-particularly the bass, and the rounded sound of the brass were all standouts of this piece. The woodwinds of the orchestra were also quite superb, especially in their solos. The most impressive thing about the orchestra, in both pieces, was how great they sounded both in their sections and when they had solos. There is moment near the very end of the piece in which the large forces of the orchestra give way to a short “string quartet” of the principals (probably a tribute by Schoenberg to his original subject matter) that then builds up to full strength of the orchestra-this was truly magical. A wonderful piece played by a wonderful orchestra.       

As opposed to the first piece, I am very familiar with Brahms Symphony No. 1 as it is one of my favorite pieces. But the orchestra was transcendental to the point that I became so caught up in the music that I forgot what came next.  It was a lovely rendering of the piece, full of force and soul. Sir Simon Rattle kept the work moving, shaping the movement from the dark grandeur of the first movement to the shining triumph of the last. The orchestra sounded clean, crisp and expressive throughout the work, bringing out the dynamics and contrasts. The solo part by concertmaster Guy Braunstein was breathtaking, and the horn accents, an important part of this piece, sounded lovely. The third movement, one I had not appreciated enough before was particularly affecting. On whole, it was a wonderful conception and delivery of the piece.

A recent blog entry by Greg Sandow (http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2009/11/no-star_game.html)  talked about the abilities of true stars to “curve time and space,” and I think that the Berlin Philharmonic fits this description. There was literally not an empty seat in the house. The audience bravo-ed merely because Sir Simon Rattle had decided to walk on the stage. The music captivated, the audience became enthralled and time became fluid. It was an affirming moment for me as a fan of classical music-here was an ensemble dedicated to achieving the highest level of musicality they could and there was audience to appreciate it. The repertoire was fairly standard and while not revelatory, the quality of the orchestra and attention they paid to the music was inspiring and revealing. Classical music may or may not be dying, but here was an orchestra that could draw a full, extremely enthusiastic audience to its feet by virtue of its thoughtfulness. The Berlin Philharmonic cared about those pieces, and thus so did the audience.

Bravo and encore.

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11/4 Saint Louis Symphony @ Carnegie Hall

Igor Stravinsky – Chant du rossignol

Tan Dun – Water Concerto

Bright Sheng – Colors of Crimson

Béla Bartók – The Miraculous Mandarin Suite     

David Robertson-Conductor, Colin Currie-Percussion

I decided to go to this concert because I was too intrigued not to go. The concert was part of Carnegie Hall’s recent series “Ancient Paths, Modern Voices,” celebrating Chinese music both traditional and recent. It featured two modern works by Chinese composers bookended by two older works by Western composers –obviously meant to showcase the depth of modern voices (yes, there is more to Chinese music than pentatonic scales!) while also showing the mythical and fantastical aspect of the West’s perceptions of China. The concert certainly provided food for thought, as well as an opportunity to hear a world class orchestra perform with skill and precision.

The first piece of the night was Stravinsky’s Chant du rossignol, or Song of the Nightingale, a symphonic poem that tells the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, a fairytale set in China about an Emperor , a beautiful Nightingale and the mechanical bird that replaces it. Stravinsky was an evocative storyteller, and this piece is no different, with the various timbres of the orchestra effectively used to characterize the characters (a flute melody for the Nightingale, pompous horns for the Emperor.) The Saint Louis Symphony played wonderfully on this piece, enthusiastically bringing the story to life while displaying mastery of the difficult rhythms. The brass was especially impressive, with a clear and beautiful tone in solo passages and as a group. The low brass was particularly clear and avoided the murky sound that can frequently occur.

The second piece of the night, Tan Dun’s Water Concerto was the most novel. The work could be best described as a soundscape for orchestra and water sonorities. Instead of rolling a grand piano onstage, a large container of water and bowls on lighted stands were put centerstage. The percussionist, Colin Currie, used the water throughout the piece, running his hands through it, splashing with it, and submerging various other things in it to play (wooden bowls, gongs, cups etc.) The orchestra played an accompaniment  that alternated between folk melodies with lush orchestral sounds and brass players percussively taping their mouthpieces and a strange melody reminiscent of children jeering that was produced using the mouthpieces of the brass and woodwinds (or something else; from the balcony I couldn’t really be sure.) The piece overall may not have been spectacular, but the sonorities of the water, in combination both with the orchestra and various other percussion instruments, were arresting. The juxtaposition of the sounds of someone bathing with runs in the violins was unique-a proposition that I hadn’t considered before. I think this juxtaposition spoke particularly to Tan Dun’s background both as a Chinese composer and as someone sent to the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. A Western composer would not have thought to use water as the basis of a percussion concerto, nor created the effect of “river music.”

After intermission, Colin Currie returned to play the marimba in Bright Sheng’s Colors of Crimson, a concerto for marimba and orchestra. In the program the composer declared his goal to be to balance out the monotimbre of the marimba with a variety of orchestration, thus creating “colors of crimson.” Although the lack of timbre remained apparent, there was a variety of soloing and accompaniment; at times the marimba played a simple melody over a lush string background, while at other times complex conflicts between the orchestra and the marimba seemed to erupt. Of all the pieces of the night, this piece evoked the most real version of China. I could see a country that was more than a fairytale land of pagodas and rivers-it was one that had gone through a Cultural Revolution and torn itself apart, and was slowly trying to piece itself together, trying to find a new identity in our modern world, though conflicting with itself. The thematic folk song material Bright Sheng used was reminiscent of Bartok-vividly used, but never clichéd-an evocation of a China both past and present.

The concert closed with Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, a macabre work of, to quote the program, “lurid Expressionism.” Based on Bartók’s ballet of the same name, the piece tells the story of a young woman forced by three thieves to lure victims to their death. Her third victim is the mysterious Mandarin, who chases her, is wounded by the thieves, but does not bleed until the woman kisses him, whereupon he dies in “an ecstatic love-death.” The piece is lurid and dark, a picture of a fantastically horrible underworld. The St. Louis Symphony played with gusto, evocative and brutal by turns, until the devastating climax. David Robertson was called back three times, and the audience showed its appreciation for the effort of the Saint Louis Symphony.

The concert provided an interesting outlet to address one’s perceptions of China, with four different portraits-the magical fantasy land of old, the lurid opium den of the past, the more modern countryside, and the China of the present. I think it would have been more interesting if the pieces had been presented in chronological order of composition, which would have shown the development of perceptions of China, but the inquiry was effective nonetheless. It left me wondering what new direction China might turn in the future.

Kudos to David Robertson, Colin Currie, and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra for a job well done on some challenging pieces. Not being familiar with the SLSO, their polished sound was a welcome delight.

Until next time!

        

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