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Posts Tagged ‘new york philharmonic’

12/20 CONTACT! New Music Series @ The Metropolitan Museum Auditorium

Magnus Lindberg-Conductor

Game of Attrition-Arlene Sierra

Verge- Lei Liang

Melodia- Marc-André Dalbavie

Macunaíma- Arthur Kampela

It’s not often that one can say they saw the Upper East Side premier of 4 new works, but on Saturday that was the case. I attended the second performance of the New York Philharmonic’s offshore new music series, Contact!, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s auditorium. The works were given their world première on Thursday at the Upper West Side’s Symphony Space. While the format of the concert was a little rough, and some of the premieres were disappointing, I think the series has the potential to grow into a respected and exciting outlet for new music.

The format of the concert was a short interview with the composer of each piece followed by a performance. This gave the concert a more intimate feel as well as a providing some guide to the pieces, some of which might have been inexplicable without it. However, it would be greatly augmented if short musical passages to emphasize the composer’s points could be added beyond the miniscule one that was played. If the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert want to bring new music to “the common man”, and I believe they do, explanations should use vocabulary the common man can understand. To throw out a term like “spectral music” or to talk about the chords that certain pitches form without playing those chords are examples of the over complication that scares many people away from modern music. The concert is about finding a contact point, not intimidation.

The most of interesting of the pieces was Lei Liang’s Verge, for 4 string quartets and 2 double basses, written the month before and after his son Albert’s birth. The players were arranged in a semicircle and were grouped into different ensembles throughout the piece, giving an interesting shifting effect as well as broadening the orchestration, not limiting it to one traditional group.

Arlene Sierra’s Game of Attrition deserves a second listen-her introduction described the piece as an evolution of melodic cells and “games” played out between instruments, but I struggled to hear this idea. However, the idea intrigues me, and the thorny sound of the music fit that of a competition.

Dalbavie’s  piece was uninteresting and not particularly original. It was based on a Gregorian chant, but sounded more like a summary of French music of the past 100 years. I would rather have heard Ravel.

I was most excited about Arthur Kampela’s piece after his dynamic introduction, so its bad cliches made it the biggest disappointment. Kampela explained that one of his composing methods was to give talented players other instruments to work with. Why, when you have talented musicians of the caliber of those in the New York Philharmonic, would you give them percussion instruments that 6th graders have mastered? A harp player is not going to bring new subtleties to the Thunder Tube. The piece ran far too long for what ended up being almost a parody of modern music.

Although not all the pieces were pleasing, I did enjoy the chance to “contact” with a cross-section of what is going on in new composition.

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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!

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10/30 New York Philharmonic @ Avery Fischer

Beethoven – Overture to Egmont                            

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 3                          

Bernstein – Symphonic Dances from West Side Story                     

Falla – El sombrero de tres picos, Suite No. 2    

Alan Gilbert-Conductor, Emmanuel Ax-Piano

It was with slight trepidation and great excitement that I bought a ticket to this concert, a non-subscription affair that was added on to the season when the funding fell through for the NYPhil’s trip to Cuba. Having seen the Philharmonic’s sometimes sloppy renditions of repertoire pieces last season, even under Loren Maazel, I wondered what things would be like under the new direction of Alan Gilbert. Thus far his conducting has garnered quite a bit of acclaim, but hearing is believing, so off I went.

Mr. Gilbert and the Philharmonic did not disappoint. The concert opened with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, an energetic romp that was played with gusto. Sounding more energized than I had ever heard them before, the Philharmonic had both precision and force, starting the evening off with a bang. This was followed by Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with the transcendental Emmanuel Ax on piano. The two times I’ve seen Ax I have been amazed at the sheer certainty and poise in every note that he plays. He shapes each and every phrase, turning out a cohesive whole. The orchestra accompanied deftly, with Gilbert paying close and careful attention to Ax’s phrases.

Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances was particularly impressive. Gilbert took the movements at a slower pace than they are sung, allowing the listener to appreciate the greatness of Bernstein’s music as compositions, not just popular musical theater. The orchestra was into it, snapping and yelling Mambo! at the appropriate intervals, laughing and smiling at each other, while sounding poignant in the string solos. The concert closed with an appropriately encore-esque version of Miguel de Falla’s  Suite No. 2 from “El sombrero de tres picos,” building to an appropriately crashing finale.

In the end, perhaps it was better that the NYPhil was actually in New York instead of Cuba, allowing themselves to be part of the scene here. What was once a focal point of music in the city is no longer a dynamic institution but a wheezing relic that does not draw much attention except when it journeys abroad. But the moment of acclaim when the NYPhil played in Pyongyang was short-lived; far more impressive to me is the new effort to reclaim New York City. An orchestra should be of the city it is in, an embodiment of its spirit and an asset to its residents. What better way to do that than to bring new life to the classics of the repertoire? Or taking the time to impress the people you represent? I can only hope this trend continues.

Until next time!

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