Thursday, July 5, 2012

The New York Philharmonic’s Spectacular Finale (s)

After its final subscription concerts the previous week, the New York Philharmonic played two additional programs that were a godsend to those of us having to wade through the usual Bach/Mozart/Beethoven. The all-Henri Dutilleux concert at Avery Fisher Hall (June 26) was grand enough; what followed at the Park Avenue Armory (June 29-30) was a bombastic climax: Philharmonic 360 was as intoxicating as the previous seasons’ ends of the Alan Gilbert era: Gyorgy Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre and Leos Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen.

Gilbert and Ma Perform Dutilleux (photo: Chris Lee)
The Dutilleux concert, in honor of the great French composer receiving the orchestra’s first Marie-Josee Kravis Prize for New Music—which the 96-year-old master is selflessly sharing with three composers, Peter Eötvös, Anthony Cheung and Franck Krawczyk —was the first time the orchestra performed a concert consisting entirely of his music, and it seems bets were hedged by enlisting Yo-Yo Ma to play Tout un monde lontain…, the gorgeous cello concerto Dutilleux composed in 1970 and revised in 1988, in order to woo the crowds.

One could quibble with the selections: the orchestral coloring of Métaboles, while beautiful and mysterious, has already been heard recently at the Philharmonic, and Dutilleux’s String Quartet, Ainsi la nuit, while performed formidably by the Miro Quartet, had its intricacies swallowed up by the large hall. Gilbert probably chose these works to use less rehearsal time: since the players are familiar with Métaboles (performed twice in the past five seasons), presumably only the Cello Concerto would need substantive rehearsal time, allowing more work on the 360 concert.

Even so, Dutilleux’s elegant, refined, astringent but not atonal music sounded amazing—and enduring. Too bad the audience was profoundly uncivilized: coughing, unwrapping, cell phone ringing and program rustling continued throughout the evening. I hope they’re not typical Yo-Yo Ma fans.

Philharmonic 360 (photo: Chris Lee)
The better behaved Armory audience during Philharmonic 360 was obviously riveted by the dramatic presentation of odd orchestral configurations in music conceived for not only sound but space. Aside from the Act I finale of Mozart’s Don Giovanni—which shed no light on the opera, and Michael Counts’s staging seemed a desperate attempt to use as much of the Armory’s magnificent Drill Hall as possible—the music was well-chosen for this particular space.

Difficult scores by Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen were the program’s lynchpins, and if their music is usually better seen than heard, here seeing and hearing it were one and the same. The various instrumental groupings for Boulez’s Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna and Stockhausen’s Gruppen were as much fun to watch as to listen to the sounds swirling around the Armory from all angles. Ending the concert was Charles Ives’ majestic The Unanswered Question, with its ecstatic trumpet part soaring above the audience.

Gilbert, who conducted superbly, was greatly assisted by Matthias Pintscher and Magnus Lindberg for the complexities of Gruppen. No one will probably ever hear (or see) these works again, so the Armory concert was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a perfect ending to the Philharmonic season (that's not counting this week’s Summertime Classics and next week’s Concerts in the Parks).

June 26, 2012
Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY
June 29-30, 2012
Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY

No comments: