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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.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Concert Review: This Used To Be Their Playground

The New York Philharmonic returns to Carnegie Hall for its 2015 gala.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Evgeny Kissin played the opening gala of Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Bette Marshall for Sony Classics.
Opening night at Carnegie Hall is a festive occasion each year. This year, the famed venue turns 125 years old, and celebrated that birthday with a program that looked back upon golden moments in its venerated history. The guests though were from up the street: the New York Philharmonic. America's oldest orchestra called the Carnegie stage home for 70 years before upping roots to Lincoln Center.

With new concertmaster Frank Huang tuning up the orchestra, Alan Gilbert took the stage to lead the glittering crowd in the National Anthem, turning to conduct the singing assembly as cymbals and weighty brass added girth to the familiar melody. Then it was time for the real curtain-raiser, Vivo, a brand-new overture by Finnish composer and former Philharmonic composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg: the first fruit of Carnegie Hall's 125 Commissions Project.

Mr. Lindberg's work was brisk and energetic, full of good humor, good spirits, and some tricky passages for woodwinds and brass that recalled the complexity of Ravel. The single movement was kaleidoscopic, shifting from a hurry-up opening to a quieter central passage that brought the woodwinds to the fore. The closing pages recalled American composers Bernstein and Gershwin, the former in its sense of raw, rumbustious energy and the latter in the elegant final chords, a subtle quote from Rhapsody in Blue.

If the audience was politely appreciative of Vivo, they went positively nuts for soloist Evgeni Kissin. The pianist is a great favorite in New York. Twenty-five years ago, he made his New York debut with the Philharmonic. One week later, he took the Carnegie stage by storm with a memorable debut that coincided with the venue's 100th anniversary.His choice here: the much-loved and well-worn Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky could not be more of a crowd-pleaser. However, Mr. Kissin's playing in the first movement sounded fresh and searching, as if this artist is compelled to unearth new treasures from within its familiar pages.

Mr. Kissin has the rare gift of playing forcefully but making that violence sound eloquent, a style that meshed well with Mr. Gilbert's detailed, but enthusiastic interpreation of the orchestral accompaniment in the broad opening. The Philharmonic players became brief soloists in the second movement, with flute and oboe moving to the fore. The scherzando central section featured the soloist's fleet fingers against a pounding orchestra before the cellos led the ensemble back to calmer waters. The fleet finale was brisk and cheerful, and the audience was rapt in their appreciation of Mr. Kissin.

Following the flowers, bows and enthusiastic, standing ovation, Mr. Kissin chose to lavish his audience with more Tchaikovsky. The Méditation is a song without words, written with a searching theme over a roving left-hand part. With its hook-filled, hummable chorus, this piece combined the composer's gift for eloquent phrasing with dulcet tones. Mr. Kissin providing just the right dollop of sentiment. The song-like main theme was expertly supported, and the hall sat rapt for a full five minutes that seemed much longer, as if time itself had stopped.

The concert ended with the Suite No. 2 from Ravel's Daphnis et Chlöe, a work that found fresh legs as a concert hall favorite after tanking as a ballet. The mytho-poetic tone paintings featured a glorious orchestral sunrise, followed by a passage where flute and oboe dominate against a pointillist background. The final pages are a jubilant Danse generale. Led with bold strokes by Mr. Gilbert this was the ideal music to rouse the donor-heavy audience and get them upstairs to the banquet. At least it wasn't Bolero.

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