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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Concert Review: The New York Philharmonic's 15,000th concert.

The New York Philharmonic celebrated their anniversary on Wednesday night as The Russian Stravinsky, a festival celebrating the composer's works as conducted by Valery Gergiev, rolled into its final week. This concert featured Petrushka, the ballet telling the tale of a love-sick puppet, as well as the Symphony in C and the Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra.

The Symphony in C is a rich, complicated score, combining the composer's neo-classical tendencies with hard-punching percussion and Stravinsky's use of odd rhythms and meters.. Originally commissioned for the New York Philharmonic, the work had been neglected by the orchestra for thirty years. Wednesday night's performance made a case for this acerbic score, with its piano figurations and complex wind writing. Mr. Gergiev also rose to the occasion, giving an energetic performance.

Far more exciting (and even more rare) was the Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, a four-movement work that is a virtuoso concerto in all but name. Soloist Denis Matsuev showed his mettle, racing through the difficult movements with accurate runs, trills and figurations. Mr. Gergiev gave the work momentum, Unusually, Stravinsky groups the orchestra into small clusters of instruments, and uses the work's four movements to play the sections off against each other. This is the roots of "spatial music", although the technique is derived from antiphonal church music of the Middle Ages.

Petrushka is the second of the great ballet scores that Stravinsky wrote for Diaghalev's Ballet Russe. However, the listener doesn't always hear the full orchestration, which calls for enormous forces. Mr. Gergiev made the puppet dance to his tune, and allowed the rich colors of Stravinsky's imagination to burst forth. From Glenn Dicterow's elegaic violin solo to the rude (but musical) noises emerging from the depths of the tuba, Petrushka is an overwhelming (if somewhat twisted) work. Unlike the Firebird, this ballet ends on a question mark, as the ghost of the murdered puppet avenges itself on those who killed him. But this performance left no question that Gergiev, Stravinsky and the Philharmonic continue to make exciting music together.

Photo: Valery Gergiev: master of puppets.
Photo © 2010 London Symphony Orchestra

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