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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Concert Review: Music of the Past, Present, and Future at the New York Philharmonic

Håkan Hardenberger on the trumpet. Photo courtesy Yamaha Corporation © 2010.
Friday morning's New York Philharmonic concert featured the orchestra's second performance of Aerial, a two-movement concerto for trumpet and orchestra by Austrian composer H.K. Gruber. To ease the pill of modern music for concert-goers, Music Director Alan Gilbert thoughtfully sandwiched the work between a Mozart symphony and two familiar works by Richard Wagner.

The concert opened with an ethereal performance of the Siegfried Idyll, Wagner's only work written to a chamber-orchestra scale. The stripped down Philharmonic produced lovely sounds, particularly the stirring horn solo played by Philip Myers and the cheerful bird-calls in the woodwinds. The Idyll was written as a birthday present for Cosima Wagner, and is built from many of the themes that would later be used to construct the finished score of the opera Siegfried.


Trumpet soloist Håkan Hardenberger alternated between three different instruments to meet the musical challenge of Aerial. Switching between regular trumpet, piccolo trumpet and a cow horn, he produced tentative sounds at first, soaring to incredible heights against a melodic wash of orchestral texture. The second movement was far mor exciting, as the composer set difficult trumpet parts against stuttering, kinetic rhythms inspired by Slavic dances. Musically, it reminded one of the lurching dance movements of Mahler, with its shadowy passages and complicated cross-rhythms.

Mozart's Symphony No. 25 is one of the first products of his maturity, We were back down to a smaller orchestra for it, as the crack Philharmonic players delved into the four movements with joy. Mr. Gilbert led a tight performance, playing the notes as the composer intended with a precise sense of rhythm. It may not have been a flashy performance, but it was beautiful.

The concert concluded with the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Wagner's most romantic opera. From the sounding of the first three, dissonant chords (including the famous "Tristan Chord") Mr. Gilbert led a sweeping performance that consolidated all the drama and longing of the opera into fifteen beautiful minutes. The Liebestod, (Isolde's final aria, sung over Tristan's corpse) was sung out by the sweeping strings and soaring horns of the Philharmonic in a peroration of Wagner's "music of the future." If this is an indication of how this young Wunderkind conducts Wagner, maybe he should get a gig at the opera house next door.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.