Los Angeles Youth Orchestra in Review

Los Angeles Youth Orchestra
Russell Steinberg, artistic director and conductor
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
February 25th, 2013
Los Angeles Youth Orchestra

Los Angeles Youth Orchestra

 

 

The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra arrived at Carnegie Hall and performed with great passion and dedication. They not only arrived at Carnegie, but as an organization and youth orchestra, they have truly “arrived’. The obvious reason for this event was to give these young players a remarkable opportunity to perform in New York, in one of the great halls of the world. But the other purpose was to show that this organization will be a permanent mainstay in their own community. Clearly, they will be just that.

The students’ training, which involves mentoring with members of major orchestras and rehearsing with professional musicians on a weekly basis, is paying off. The orchestra includes between 80 and 90 students ranging in age from 8-18, from both public and private schools. Although a good percentage of its students do not pursue music as a profession, all of the students’ lives are greatly enhanced through the classics and new music, and they learn life lessons through the program—including giving to and feeling a sense of community, the benefits of teamwork, plus knowledge of history and the arts. Some of their alumni, like violinist Niv Ashkenazi and flutist Elizabeth Erenberg, have decided to enter the music profession, and they joined current members for this Carnegie performance. Ashkenazi joined the orchestra originally as a teenager with the dream of becoming a concert violinist and studying at Juilliard with Itzhak Perlman, and he has fulfilled both those goals. Erenberg is now a successful flutist who recently received her master’s degree from The New England Conservatory, studying with Paula Robison.

Los Angeles Youth Orchestra

Los Angeles Youth Orchestra

The program was dedicated to the memory of the orchestra’s late program director and viola coach, Eve Cohen. In addition, one of the premieres, “EveStar”, by Russell Steinberg, was composed in her honor. Cohen worked with Steinberg to help develop the future of the organization and also to convince violinists to make the relatively seamless switch to the richer, more velvety sound of the viola. The music appropriately concludes with the viola section sustaining a low G string note while violins shimmer and sparkle above–as if to say she has said goodbye but will always remain with the orchestra in spirit. The work is structured so that its sprightly middle section provides a welcome energetic contrast (kids like upbeat tempos)—as if to bask in the many happy memories Cohen provided. This section gives the work real variety, and therefore provides conductors with the opportunity to program a contrasting work that’s both dreamy and animated. No doubt, it is the kind of inspired, catchy piece that deserves many performances. The same can be said for Steinberg’s “Carnegie Overture”, which is naturally celebratory–containing freshly lyrical passages that invite warm feelings–but also pulsating with edgy syncopations and dissonance. The percussion section helps drive the work, which has a real sense of continuity and organic growth from beginning to end. The orchestra played both works with a sense of nostalgia and purpose, with focus and infectious energy. They were well-prepared, performing with rhythmical precision and tonal refinement.

Also on the program was music from Beethoven’s challenging eighth symphony and a welcome, playable William Ryden/ Stephen L. Rosenhaus arrangement of De Falla’s music: a combination of the Miller’s Dance from “The Three Cornered Hat” and the Ritual Fire Dance from “El Amor Brujo”. Steinberg exudes much joy in his conducting, and the players respond with affection and exuberance in return. His interpretations of the Beethoven and De Falla were first rate. I cannot mention everyone here, but the horn and percussion sections were particularly excellent throughout the program, with special kudos to the solo clarinet and solo bassoon players.

Carnegie Hall was packed with a nearly full house, and there was excitement in the air. The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra staff, board and generous supporters are making this orchestra a vital part of the Los Angeles community, and it was wonderful for them and the New York audience that they made such an auspicious Carnegie Hall debut. Russell Steinberg has greatly helped with building this orchestra into an invaluable treasure; a shining and everlasting star.


Oberlin Orchestra in Review

Oberlin Orchestra
Raphael Jimenez, conductor
Jeremy Denk, piano
Carnegie Hall
January 19, 2013
Oberlin College

Oberlin Orchestra; Photo Credit: Chris Lee

The Oberlin Orchestra sounded polished and impressive in their Carnegie Hall Concert on January 19th. The music was challenging, including Ravel’s “La Valse” and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” (1919), and the young players rose to the occasion, sounding highly professional–especially in the execution of complex rhythms. The percussion nailed those complexities with ease and solidity of sound, the brass and winds were expressive and noble–even during tricky sections, and the strings were clear and energetic at all times. In Ravel’s “La Valse”, for example, the violins employed every bow stroke, vibrato and portamento with precision and unity.

One could quibble with the lack of sheer tonal strength in the strings, but this may have been due to the brass and percussion overpowering them at times. Or it may have been due to the inferior quality of some of the string instruments (after all, not every student can afford something top-notch yet). Here is something a little esoteric: the influence of the major orchestra in town could enter the attitudes of the major conservatory in town. In other words, it may be that the sound of the pristine, elegant Cleveland Orchestra is in the air.The Oberlin Orchestra in many ways sounded like a young Cleveland Orchestra: polished and elegant, but not necessarily powerfully robust–and that is not a negative, but simply a tradmark characteristic. Conductor Raphael Jimenez did a wonderful job of balancing the sections of the Ravel and Stravinsky, and bringing out the various colors in Christopher Rouse’s “Iscariot”, a dissonant work reminiscent of Ives, from 1989. All these works require an excellent navigator for the heavy orchestration, and Jimenez made these textures transparent. He also deserves credit for preparing the ensemble so well. Most of these young musicians have never played in Carnegie Hall, and any nerves were tempered by Jimenez’s controlled, collected podium style. That said, Jimenez might have allowed for more abandonment and chaos in certain sections of the Ravel. This is a not an effervescent, ebullient Johann Strauss Jr. Waltz, but rather a parody of it–music that gets more and more out of control.

Rouse, an outstanding composer who is Composer-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic and an Oberlin alumnus (graduating class of 1971), made a welcome onstage appearance.  A younger alumnus, the accomplished Jeremy Denk (a 1990 graduate), performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467. Denk gave an impressively speedy and facile performance, but one that still found time to be sensitive to all the music’s phrasing and harmonic shifts. The ensemble between orchestra and soloist was superbly homogenius. The quality of the strings and winds was very high, imbued with clarity of rhythm and excellent intonation.

This evening at Carnegie Hall was a wonderful celebration of Oberlin’s depth of talent and the school’s and students’ accomplishments. Oberlin is no doubt a great place to be if you want to make a deep impact as a musician.


The Alonso-Drummond Duo in Review

Evan Drummond, guitar
Orlay Alonso, piano
Sponsored by The Cuban Cultural Center of NY
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
November 14, 2012

 

Evan Drummond and Orlay Alonso are a truly remarkable duo, as they are always committed to sharing every note with one another and—most importantly— the audience at hand. For them, it is never about showing off what they can do technically, but rather about bringing the listener into the meaning of the music. They are real virtuosos of their respective instruments, but I don’t want to draw any more attention to their technique; I’d rather discuss their one-of-a-kind chemistry. After all, there are thousands of ensembles who can play extremely well but don’t know how to blend as an organic unit.

The music of Leo Brouwer is an example of music that is not extremely well-known, but when this duo plays it with their trademark passion, the audience seems to feel that they know it like the back of their hands. Brouwer’s music is—simply put—marvelous. Always catch it whenever it is programmed because you’ll walk away rejuvenated and enlightened—especially when the Alonso-Drummond group plays it.

A key component to this duo’s chemistry is their individual backgrounds and how these accomplished musicians joined forces. Alonso traveled  from his native Cuba to New York’s LaGuardia School for the Performing Arts, where he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Manhattan School Pre-College, and later Mannes and Yale. Alonso met Drummond at Yale, and upon their graduation, they began a series of concerts presenting programs of re-imagined interpretations of some of the most cherished repertoire of Spain and Cuba.

They are now also presenting their own arrangements of well-known composers in a quasi-ballet suite format. Drummond has signed with Dunvagen Music Publications for an arrangement of a Phillip Glass composition, and I believe the duo has a future not only because of their communicative gifts, but also because they will build a whole new repertoire for this unusual but aesthetically pleasing pair of instruments.


The Music of Dinos Constantinides in Review

The Music of Dinos Constantinides
Louisiana State University Soloists
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
Presented by DCINY
November 30, 2012

 

The music of the Greek-American composer Dinos Constantinides is outstanding. He is truly original, in that he combines a Greek folk music or tradition with 20th century influences. “Theme and Variations for Piano on a Greek Tune” is one such example. Michael Gurt, pianist, played with both precision and affection. “Fantasia for Stelios and Yiannis” for violin and viola, LRC 244 was also lovingly played—and with real virtuosity by Renata Arado, violinist, and Espen Lilleslatten, violist. “Delphic Hymn” made for another wonderful contrast by Constantinides. The sound of the saxophone and guitar was a unique combination to begin with, but the writing was unusually colorful and expressive. Griffin Campbell on saxophone and Ronaldo Cadeu on guitar were a remarkable pairing. The percussive knocks on the guitar added a unique flavor—almost like a third instrument—and the saxophone’s soaring melodies made for an impressive contrast.

 Other notable listings on the program were “Mutability Fantasy” –this time scored for alto saxophone and piano, and “Hellenic Musings” for violin, soprano sax and piano. “Sappho Songs” were unique in the way Sappho’s poetry was set to music. It is simply amazing that the Greek poetess, Sappho, was born so many years ago–on the island of Lesbos in the 7th century BC. She is often considered the greatest lyric poet of antiquity, writing on such subjects as love, nature and friendship. Her work survives in fragments, yet Constantinides found a way to make it work.

Constantinides’ compositions have been performed throughout the US, Europe and Asia by prestigious ensembles including the American Symphony Orchestra in New York, the Memphis and New Orleans Symphony, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic and the Athens State Orchestra. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including several Meet the Composer grants, as well as yearly ASCAP Standard Awards. In 1994, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars honored him with a Distinguished Teacher Award. He has written over 250 compositions, most of them published. He has been the Director of the Louisiana State University Festival of Contemporary Music for 22 years, and he earned Artist of the Year Award of Louisiana. He is presently Boyd Professor, the highest academic rank at Louisiana State University, head of the Composition area, and Music Director of the Louisiana Sinfonietta. His music deserves to be heard often—and in important cities and arenas.


Kent Sangster’s Obsessions Octet in Review

Kent Sangster’s Obsessions Octet
Presented by MidAmerica Productions
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
October 6, 2012
 

Kent Sangster’s Obsessions Octet

 

Kent Sangster’s Obsessions Octet gave us a lot to obsess about during the concert—mainly how good they are. Sangster is an excellent saxophonist, and moreover, the group he assembled performed with both an infectious energy and a spicy rhythmical precision throughout the evening. The hall was jam-packed. At one point, Sangster told the audience that the concert was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One certainly hopes not, and that they appear in Weill Hall (or Zankel Hall) at Carnegie–and certainly in New York—more often.

The compositions crossed over from Jazz to Latin music to Classical, and each piece had its own appeal. There was a great deal of variety on the program: from Piazzolla to Cole Porter to excellent new material from Allan Gilliland and Sangster himself. Piazzolla’s “Oblivion”, “Melodia in A Minor”, “Preludio 9” and “Fuga 9” are in a class by themselves. These are also virtuosic pieces, and the intricacies of the off beats were handled with confidence and finesse.

A string quartet comprised of violinists Joanna Ciapka-Sangster and Neda Yamach, violist Rhonda Henshaw, and cellist Ronda Metszies swayed together with a unity of coordination and passion. Bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer Jamie Cooper were rock-solid, and pianist Chris Andrew has plenty of chops, but he also displayed a good deal of sensitivity.

Sangster performed with both warmth of expression and a suave detachment when needed. He played each of his saxophones with its own unique expressive voice and showed a very impressive technique to boot. A prominent member of Canada’s jazz scene for almost twenty years, Sangster and the group are based in Edmonton. He has released five original jazz albums; his CD “Melodia”, the second recording by the octet, was nominated for a 2010 Western Canadian Music Award for Best Jazz Recording.

Sangster is a full-time faculty member at Grant MacEwan University and the Executive Director and Producer of the Edmonton International Jazz Festival. There are plans for an Obsessions Octet tour to Europe; international—as well as national—exposure is what this group deserves to have.


“This Shining Night”: The Music of Whitacre and Lauridsen in Review

Presented by DCINY
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Eric Whitacre, conductor
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
April 1, 2012
 
This Shining Night: The Music of Lauridsen and Whitacre. Photo Credit: DCINY Production/Richard Termine

This Shining Night: The Music of Lauridsen and Whitacre. Photo Credit: DCINY Production/Richard Termine

 

 

Eric Whitacre conducted amazingly well-prepared choruses in presentations of his music, which ranged from 1992 to the present, and he also conducted two lovely renditions of works by Morten Lauridsen. The singers, mostly students from high school and university choruses throughout the United States, all sang from memory with excellent pitch, diction, balance, phrasing and rhythm, plus complete devotion to each work. The music contrasted from the sublime (most of the works had to do with the night, sleep or dreams) to the ridiculous (Ogden Nash’s texts in “Animal Crackers”), and the full-house at Carnegie Hall seemed captivated by every selection.

The evening began with “Lux Aurumque”, a serene and poignant work with fascinating harmonies. But even more touching and unsettling was the setting to Octavio Paz’s text to “A Boy and a Girl”. By contrast, “Animal Crackers”– in two short volumes–riotously showcased boys singing high falsetto in “The Cow”, and cleverly incorporated familiar strands such as the opening chords of Tchaikovsky’s B-flat Piano Concerto and “Oh Tenenbaum” in the song “The Kangaroo”. Just as catchy was “The Canary”, humorously set to repetitious music on the words “..never varies”. The excellent pianist for the evening was Tali Tadmor. Ogden Nash’s texts are indeed hysterical, but Whitacre’s music added even more to the hilarity. The audience had a blast.

“Five Hebrew Love Songs”, with a fine string quartet at hand, provided a welcome variety within its five settings. It was idiomatic and ethnically authentic, complete with precise tambourine in its dance movement. There was some ragged ensemble (in the male voices) only once in a tricky section. The work entitled “the city and the sea” contained more dense harmonies and even more fascinating counterpoint; the “Little Man in a Hurry” movement was the highlight, with its catchy melisma and mixed meters.“Cloudburst” was as evocative and mystical as “the city and the sea” was invigorating and exuberant. It goes ‘Old World’, with chants in 5ths, but then intersperses modern techniques such as aleatoric writing and minor-second clusters. The sustained voices over the counterpoint sounded sublime. The celestial swells were reminiscent of Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe”, and the rattling percussion, plus clapping and snapping sounds provided with unity and confidence by the chorus added to the sensations and imagination.

“Go, Lovely Rose”, Whitacre’s first composition from 1992, contained impressive high solos for tenor and soprano, and they were performed admirably. Harmonically, the piece is more daring than you would think from such an early composition (he was only 21 at the time). “Sleep”, was evocative, atmospheric and beautifully performed by the large chorus; the cloudy harmonies and mysterious atmosphere are reminiscent of “Sirenes” from Debussy’s “Nocturnes” or music from “Neptune” in Holst’s “The Planets”–both for women’s voices and usually sung off stage. Whitacre’s music, even though seemingly inspired by strokes of genius in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, still has much to offer–especially to young people. The concluding, extremely gradual ‘fade-out’ was astounding for its breath control and dynamic color; it disappeared into the night.

Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Night” and “Dirait-on”, based on the text by Ranier Maria Rilke from “Les Roses”, made fitting partners to Whitacre’s “Sleep” music, but instead of being ethereal-sounding like the Whitacre work, Lauridsen’s night music–while sharing similar ideologies–was less mysterious and chromatic and sounded more harmonically open, earthy and lush (an appropriate musical style for settings to poetry like “Les Roses”). Mr. Lauridsen performed at the piano while Mr. Whitacre conducted. Lauridsen’s consistently tender music provided an endearing close to this very impressive program.

The excellent choruses that participated in this successful Carnegie Hall concert were the Desoto Central High School Chorale (MS), Legacy Christian Academy Concert Choir (TX),  Orrville High School Choir (OH), West Monroe High School Choir (LA), Winter Springs High School Chorus (FL), Classical Ensemble and Bel Canto Choirs (CA), Delta State University Chorale (MS), The Lowell Choir (CA), molto cantabile (Switzerland), Olive Branch High School Choir (MS), Ridgeland High School Choir (MS), River Dell High School Select Choir (NJ), and the Rose Choir (NJ). They could not have been better prepared by their directors.


DCINY in Review: “Eternal Light…Shining Bright”

Music for Chorus and Women’s Chorus
Jonathan Griffith; Hilary Apfelstadt;
Jed Ragsdale and Hallie Reed, conductors
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center
March 31, 2012
Eternal Light…Shining Bright . Photo Credit: DCINY Production/Richard Termine

Eternal Light…Shining Bright . Photo Credit: DCINY Production/Richard Termine

 
 
 
 

 

One of my main memories of the first half of this varied musical afternoon is garnering a deeper sense of the sonic possibilities of a choral concert. And that is saying a lot, considering I was in attendance at Avery Fisher Hall, an acoustical space not known for good acoustics.

Choral conductor, Hilary Apfelstadt, often placed two choruses antiphonally on house-left and right, in addition to the main choir at center stage. This produced a surround-sound effect reminiscent of some great choral recordings. In addition, Apfelstadt did a fine job of balancing the voicing so that inner lines could be heard clearly. All of the first-half works were composed for women’s chorus –much of it A Cappella– and every work, which included well-written music by Ruth Watson Henderson, Eleanor Daley, Daniel Gawthrop and Joan Szymko (“The Singing Place”), was delightful.

The highlight of the first half was Elizabeth Alexander’s “Reasons for the Perpetuation of Slavery”.  Not only was the chorus completely invested in the music’s meaning, difficult rhythm and counterpoint, it was navigated with complete confidence and polish. The work is brilliantly innovative; the chorus is asked to stomp on the ground, evoking marching in chains, and the ensuing overlapping of the phrasing gives the impression of immense frustration and chaos. “Tundra” by Ola Gjeilo was extremely enjoyable; it was a passionate performance of majestic music that has Broadway undertones. “How Can I Keep from Singing” was more homophonic, with straightforward, chorale-style writing; it was nevertheless memorable for its uniquely noble, hymnal quality. The chorus sang with good breath control, clear diction and intonation—not to mention wonderful character of expression. The Brass Ensemble’s playing was excellent.

In Mozart’s “Regina Coeli”, the talented conductor Jed Ragsdale led the Cy-Fair Chorale and Cy-Fair High School Women’s Choir. The orchestra sounded under-rehearsed, but the chorus sang very well indeed. The quartet of soloists seemed nervous and held the music in front of their faces some of the time—which wasn’t great for their sound projection. Ironically, the chorus performed without their music and sang with more confidence. The soprano soloist did a fine job.

“Cool of the Day”, expertly arranged by John Ratledge and conducted by Hallie Reed, was nicely prepared; shapely phrasing, good diction and clear balance. Sydney Bell’s “Flower of Beauty” was lovely, but the mezzo soprano soloist needed to sing out a lot more and with more accurate pitch (perhaps there were some nerves). Here, the choir phrased with clear-cut precision, meticulous articulation and a concluding unison that was both touching and powerful. Parker’s ‘A Cappella’ phrases were interpreted in a way that allowed us to feel each spirited accent; voicing and counterpoint was clear as a bell. The soprano soloist was excellent here. Ragsdale did a marvelous job with the choral preparation.

The Morten Lauridsen work on this program was his “Lux Aeterna”, and like other works I’ve heard of his recently, it is a fully accessible, Neo-Romantic work that does a wonderful job of reveling in warmth and richness of sound (especially French Horns, low string sonorities and low-tessitura chorus), with subtle changes in expression, orchestration and harmony (which is primarily open, with Copland-like 4ths and 5ths plus occasional major 6ths on top). There is little complex polyphony, with the emphasis on solemnity and nobility of character. One of the main melodies—a perfect fifth leap upwards with falling seconds, and reminiscent of some John Williams or James Horner film scores and the Rachmaninoff or Mahler slow movements that never want to stop singing—grips the audience with its unending tenderness.

Jonathan Griffith led the orchestra and chorus in a polished (except for one false entrance in the Introitus), meaningful account. The A Cappella work was astoundingly good. The music is not difficult to perform, but the balance, intonation and phrasing were painted with a masterful brush. Each movement was a seamless projection of thought—a musical narrative that seemed to convey that everything is perpetually good and safe with the world. We could use that kind of confidence, especially now.

The talented choristers traveled to Lincoln Center from various locations in the United States: Bella Voce Singers (NY), Cy-Fair High School Women’s Choir (TX), Encore! Women’s Choir (TX), Santiago High School Treble Ensemble (CA), Traverse City Central High School Vocal Majority (MI), Voca Lyrica (MI), The Cathedral City High School Lions’ Pride Chamber Singers (CA), Clearview Regional High School Vocal Ensemble (NJ), Santiago High School Madrigals (CA) and Seaglass Chorale (ME).


Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, Boston and St. Louis Symphonies in Review

Four Renowned Orchestras Come to Carnegie within Two Week Span
Carnegie Hall; Stern Auditorium
February 23-March 10, 2012

Sir Simon Rattle

 

 

After a relatively quiet January and early February, a slew of renowned orchestras invaded Carnegie Hall in what seemed like a new orchestral movement. Curiously enough, they weren’t all moving together or feeling the music with unity. As a result, it wasn’t necessarily the most famous ensembles that made the greatest and lasting impressions. A talented player’s natural musical movements as a solo or chamber music performer are absolutely crucial to use in the collective music-making of an orchestra section because it is important to the visceral excitement that captivates the audience; this is especially necessary in today’s visual world. The stellar performances at Carnegie Hall emanated from the orchestras that moved with the music harmoniously and had the best chemistry.

The Vienna Philharmonic is known for swaying together with the music, but they often didn’t this time around; guest conductor Lorin Maazel sometimes didn’t have the ideal communication with the players, and the orchestra often seemed uninspired. Some players surprisingly sat stiffly in their chairs and formally went about business as usual in orchestral music to Wagner’s “Ring”. They’ve played this music a great deal, but mostly from the pit at the Vienna State Opera. In fact, they often moved and looked like they were in the pit, seemingly disinterested about how they appeared as a collective unit. This attitude sometimes negatively affected their sound. Berlin, on the other hand, presented a string section in which everyone passionately moved together, wherever the phrases took them, and they used their bow exactly the same way (the Juilliard Orchestra under Alan Gilbert recently performed “The Rite of Spring” in this fashion). Even Berlin’s string tremolos in music of Mahler (the 2nd) and Bruckner (the 9th) had the type of invested energy that a pack of lions or a defensive tackle has when they go in for the kill. There were sweat and tears on each note. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that music director Simon Rattle and the Berliners are having a love affair. Rattle’s connection with the music is infectious, and it kept spreading with every measure. Perhaps the Berlin Philharmonic should have its own gold coin too.

David Robertson has the same effect on St. Louis Symphony musicians that Rattle does with his—even though Robertson has only been there a short while. “The Firebird” (complete ballet) sizzled with energy, and the cellos and first violins—most visible because they are on the outside and close to the audience—used full bows when needed and swayed together with the direction of the phrases, staying deeply involved at every microcosm of change in the musical atmosphere. The players’ expressions were what you typically see from a talented conductor: totally in character at all times. Robertson motivated the players, and in turn the players inspired the audience. Concertgoers need to see players’ involvement in the same way the orchestra needs to see the conductor’s devotion.

The brass sections are another way to compare. Boston Symphony’s brass—as well as the Vienna Philharmonic’s—did not shine like those of Berlin and St. Louis. And it’s a fair comparison because the music (and its corresponding sound-expectation) I am referring to was from large orchestral works of the Late Romantic and 20th century periods. In Vienna’s case, their brass needs to be asked to play with a big sound when needed because Richard Strauss always made a point of telling conductors to never encourage the Vienna brass, and this tradition has stuck, it seems (Maazel didn’t encourage them enough in Wagner’s music). In the case of Boston, perhaps they are an aging brass section; they did not play with much collective power in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, conducted by Deneve, nor in the Symphonie Fantastique conducted by Eschenbach. The rest of the orchestra, for that matter, had trouble staying together some of the time, as Deneve was constantly pushing the tempo in ways the orchestra wasn’t used to, and Eschenbach was often fussing with the tempo (as if there aren’t enough tempo changes in Berlioz). Granted, the Boston Symphony had the disadvantage of working with three different guest-conductors, John Oliver taking over for Masur, who took over for Levine, Eschenbach and then Stephane Deneve, who made his Carnegie Hall debut.

St. Louis seemed proud of its current brass section; some of them are temporary position players—but they blended well and it seemed that they were excited to be on stage—and off stage, as a matter of fact. In the “Firebird”, Robertson showcased extra trumpets in the 1st tier boxes for antiphonal effecta novel and great idea for this workand they sounded robust and solid to the core, echoing the sonic brilliance on stage. I hope that Carnegie gives St. Louis at least two concerts next time they come to Carnegie.

Rattle and Robertson are the right fit for their orchestras. One can hope that Vienna will fare better with Franz Welser-Most on the podium when they visit Carnegie next year. Those who missed Berlin at Carnegie will sadly have to wait another two years. Boston has a big question-mark until they get a new music director. It will be up to that person to instill a sense of complete commitment in the music-making and also remind the players that the way an orchestra moves together—especially the outside players close to the audience—is integral to the audience’s satisfaction of a live performance. Otherwise, why bother? YouTube has fantastic close-up footage of unified orchestras moving to the music and homogeneously expressing its emotion. When it comes to live performances, we often need a new orchestral movement.

Orchestra                      Stars (out of 4)

 Berlin Philharmonic     ****

St. Louis Symphony     ****

Vienna Philharmonic    **1/2

Boston Symphony        **


Flury-Prinz Duo in Review

Dieter Flury, flute
Maria Prinz, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
March 5, 2012
 

Flury-Prinz Duo

 

In a concert sponsored by MidAmerica Productions, the Vienna Philharmonic’s Principal Flutist, Dieter Flury, was paired up with Bulgarian pianist Maria Prinz. It was a program dedicated to the 150th Anniversary of Debussy’s birth, and it contained two works written by the master: “Syrinx” for solo flute, and an arrangement of his “L’Apres Midi d’un Faune” by the Russian flutist and composer, Nikolay Ivanovich Platonov. “Syrinx” was given a beautifully shaped account; expressive and atmospheric. “L’Apres…” was given fine continuity of the work’s perfect architecture. The middle section, where the tempo is more driven and playful, was performed with more than a few missed notes in the piano part. Yet it was the music’s endearing serenity that made the lasting impression.

The Bach Sonata in B minor, BWV 1030, contained some lovely give-and-take of the musical line. In general, Flury played lightly, with horizontal phrasing that gave the music direction, and Prinz played more vertically, giving each note more equal attention. Balance was good; thankfully, the piano was on the short-stick, and one could hear all the flute lines throughout the entire concert. On many other occasions in this hall, I have heard the piano drown out the flute, so kudos to Prinz for her awareness to balance. Perhaps it was her cautious type of playing–a sensitivity to the flute’s vulnerability to the weight of the piano sound–that caused Prinz to play without much musical phrasing.

Prinz and Flury played perfectly together throughout the program, with excellent ensemble at all tempo changes. Flury has excellent rhythm and played with clarity throughout the program. His intonation is stellar as well, although at times, I wish his tone was more robust. Prokofiev’s masterful Sonata in D Major, Op. 94, received an excellent interpretation, one with smooth transitions, smart pacing and admirable cohesion of musical ideas. The classic scherzo had a wonderfully catchy tempo; unfortunately, Prinz had a difficult time with some of the passage-work in this movement.

In Milhaud’s Sonatina for Flute and Piano, there were lovely nuances of tempo, and the character of the music was infectiously playful. Enescu’s “Cantabile et Presto” from 1921 needed more dynamic range and contoured phrasing. It seemed that many passages within the forte dynamic started at a moderate sound and ended the same way. There were some nice subito pianos, but that wasn’t enough to always show the arch of the music.

In an encore, Faure’s “Fantasie”, Op. 79, Flury gave an outstanding virtuoso performance with a brilliant technical display. The second encore was Debussy’s “Le Petit Negre”, arranged from the original for solo piano. The work is somewhat jazzy for Debussy, but the piano playing did not swing on the syncopations; the short notes and the long notes had equal amounts of finger pressure, thus the beats and off-beat syncopations were heavy and sounded the same.

There was a full-house of flute enthusiasts in the hall; this was a worth-while celebration –not only of the flute–but of the master, Claude Debussy, who knew the instrument better than most.


Pro Musicis Concert in Review

Elsa Grether, violin
Delphine Bardin, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
New York, NY
February 15, 2012

 

As a result of winning the Pro Musicis International Award in Paris, the violin and piano duo Elsa Grether and Delphine Bardin (both born in France) made their Carnegie Hall debut on February 15th. They always played precisely together, with excellent rhythm and well-timed tempo changes, and their program was well thought-out. The Handel Sonata in D, Op. 1, No. 13 and the Brahms first Sonata opened the program fairly well, but the second half, comprised of Szymanowski’s “Mythes” and Debussy’s Sonata in G Minor, defined this duo as polished, adventurous and compelling.

The Handel Sonata, which was given an expressive approach, had lovely moments that were only marred by Grether’s occasionally uneven vibrato and a sense of pitch that was not completely accurate. The Handel and Brahms sonatas were sensitively played by pianist Bardin, but with the piano on full stick, it was sometimes difficult—here and elsewhere on the program—to distinguish some of the important violin phrases with clarity. In the Brahms, Grether was not in her element with regards to intonation during shifting and the high register, and there was a tentative approach to her playing—an approach that I’m certain was meant to sound sweet or tender, but left me wanting more richness of tone quality and less of an airy (“impressionistic”) sound.

 The atypically thin texture Grether applied to the Brahms worked well in the Debussy Sonata, and ironically—when she needed to—she also applied a beautifully strong tone that was sometimes missing in the Brahms. Perhaps she became more confident as the recital progressed, or perhaps she has greater familiarity with the Debussy, son of her soil. The Debussy interpretation contained poignant, memorable moments that reminded us that the composer was at his wistful, yet sometimes defiant end.  The Szymanowski was played with impressive virtuosity and an ear for its unique special effects and mellifluous colors of sound. Grether and Bardin were equally impressive at handling the variety of pyrotechnics. The duo excited the audience, who received two encores and left the hall happy.