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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 3, 2017

Concert Review: An Exit Through the Wings

The Philharmonic plays Brahms and Salonen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

(Superconductor makes an effort to publish in a timely manner. However, my rustic holiday proved more rustic than planned as there was almost no internet access. Here's the review from two weeks ago, cleaned up from a rough draft and posted for your enjoyment.--Paul)
Alan Gilbert calls a halt. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
There is no delicate way to put this. The New York Philharmonic is an organization in turmoil. Its music director is leaving. Its future and the essential renovation of its hall are underfunded. And next year will have  a succession of guest conductors as the orchestra prepares for the arrival of Jaap van Zweden as its music director. For now though, the orchestra is markin gthe departure of Alan Gilbert with yet another series of custom made concerts from the imagination of a maestro with a vast spectrum of tastes.

The performance on May 22 featured a neat split between the classical and the modern, with the Brahms Violin Concerto paired with modern creations by the composers Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In this concert lay the crux of the Gilbert programming recipe: a flashy top-of-the-line soloist and modern works that try the patience of subscription holders uncertain at the idea of trying anything new.

This concert marked the last appearance of violinist Leonidas Kavakos in his one-year term as artist in residence. Mr. Kavakos, whose imposing stage presence is only outdone by his razor-sharp instrumental chops, took on the long and imposing line of the first movement, a spinning forth of dense Brahmsian musicality, written for the fingers of one of the greatest virtuosos of the 19th century, Indeed, it is impossible to hear this work and not think of Joseph Joachim but Mr. Kavakos was able to put his own unique stamp on the first movement.

Brahms follows this heaven-storming opening with a slow central Adagio that demands sweet and lyric tone from the player. This gentle, meandering movement was performed with the utmost care by Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Kavakos, with the plaintive oboe of Liang Wang leading the violin through the gentle, though musically rigorous thematic ideas. The finale, a movement that has been described by another author as "pure courage", was bright and brilliant, a triumphant ending that nonetheless made strict demands of the soloist's skills.

Then it was time for the modern half of the program, and the exodus of those concertgoers who, having got their cultural fix headed back to the suburbs of New York. They missed the first performances of Aeriality, a soaring and complex tone poem by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, a recipient of the Kravis Prize that the Philharmonic set up two years ago. This work placed great demands on players, though not the listeners, its glittering strands of sound sparkling against the black velvet of the Philharmonic's sound.

The concert ended with Mr. Salonen's Wing on Wing, a work written to commemorate the opening of the Disney Concert Hall, the home of the L.A. Philharmonic. It was perhaps a sad irony to sit in the soon-to-be-gutted Geffen Hall, listening to a work written specifically for the dedication of a far better orchestral space. Mr. Salonen wrote this work for large orchestra, electronics and two vocal soloists: Anu and Pia Komsi. Both are Finnish, both are blonde and they're sisters to boot.

From the moment that the sisters took the stage in bright red dresses, the audience sat rapt. Mr. Salonen throws in a lot of ideas hear, a tumult of orchestration that evokes the arching styles of architect Frank Gehry. He also uses the voice of Mr. Gehry himself, along with the growling, burbling call of a plainfin midshipman (a kind of Californian fish) and a huge orchestra. The singers moved in pairs around opposite sides of the hall, singing from upper boxes, the rear of the space and finally returning to flank Mr. Gilbert for the final, majestic passages of the work.

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