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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Concert Review: Mozart and the Crash Cart

A Friday matinee turns deadly at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pianist Jeffrey Kahane conducted Mozart at the New York Philharmonic this week. 
On certain, rare occasions, the weekly routine of a New York Philharmonic subscription concert at Avery  Fisher Hall is broken by an extraordinary event. Such an event happened at Friday's 11am matinée performance. The concert featured pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane leading a thoroughly conventional program: Mozart's Symphony No. 38 sandwiched between two of his piano concertos: No. 21 in C Major and the heaven-storming No. 20 in D minor.

An hour before the event took place, the concert started. Mr. Kahane led the C Major concerto from the piano, with the instrument turned so the keys (and his back) faced the audience. It was a little unusual to hear the stripped-down Philharmonic play Mozart on the Avery Fisher Hall stage without the benefit of forward placement and the "concert ceiling" that adorns the hall during the summer Mostly Mozart Festival. In the "normal" configuration, the players sounded slightly dry and arid against the vast wood walls of the stage. Valved trumpets and the choice of hard timpani sticks added to the overall nature of the sound, supplying effortless support to Mr. Kahane's solos.

For his part, Mr. Kahane conducted playing his solo parts and occasionally lifting a left hand to wave it at the players. This performance featured the soloist's own cadenzas, supplanting the material with music that was distinctly its own master but concordant and harmonius with the Mozart tuttis. His playing was effortless to the point of being slightly loose. The Symphony followed immediately, with the Philharmonic players putting an easy shoulder to this familiar music and seeming to follow the baton of concertmaster Sheryl Staples very closely throughout.

The event in question was the collapse (from an apparent heart attack) of an elderly concert-goer, right at the end of intermission. When she collapsed, the orchestra was already seated to play the second half of the program, awaiting the arrival of the concertmaster and Mr. Kahane. She was on the west side (house left) of Avery Fisher Hall in the Orchestra seating, when she fell to the floor at the end of the row. An usher was quick to summon the house manager and a little later, Lincoln Center Security.

An unidentified party administered CPR, helped and relieved by two strong men who aided with the gruelling task of heart massage. They administered chest compressions and rescue breaths, working steadily until EMTs arrived with a wheeled stretcher. The young men helped the woman onto the stretcher, and continued compressions as she was wheeled out. She was pale and from my point of view across the auditorium, unresponsive. The lights then lowered and the concert proceeded as planned.

It was genuinely difficult to hear the D Minor Concerto following these events. The storm and stress of the first movement had an emotional punch, helped by Mr. Kahane's decision to incorporate cadenzas created by Ludwig van Beethoven. The famous slow movement had some beautifully liquid playing. The final rondo seemed rushed to the point of near panic, with Mr. Kahane racing to the finish against the orchestra's brilliant flourishes, now in the key of D major.

Throughout this performance, I kept thinking of the woman and her heart attack, and Mozart's own early passing at the age of 37. Both serve as stark, chiaroscuro reminders of the temporary nature of our existence on this Earth, and the importance of living one's life to the fullest while we're all still here.

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