Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day in Review

Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Hilary Apfelstadt, conductor; Vance George, Conductor Laureate
Penelope Shumate, soprano; Dillon McCartney; tenor; Keith Harris, baritone
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
March 10, 2014

International Women’s Day was celebrated by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) with a concert in Avery Fisher Hall employing four hundred sixty-nine choral singers, sixty-three instrumentalists, and three vocal soloists. The first half was a pleasing selection of contemporary pieces for and about women sung by the combined forces of ten choirs from all over the world. And what fine choirs they were! Beautiful sounds, with excellent diction, and near perfect intonation. Clearly these women and their conductors were dedicated to this music, and the music was worthy of their labors. The first piece was Guy Forbesʼ gorgeous Ave Maria. Written for a cappella women’s chorus, this piece should become a classic. It is immediately accessible without being in any way predictable or saccharine. It was followed by another lovely song praising the Virgin Mary, Eleanor Daley’s I Sing of a Maiden, also an a cappella composition. Like all the music on the first half, it was tonal but contained interesting harmonic twists and turns. For the next two songs we were transported south of the border. The Brazilian composer Eduardo Lakschevitzʼs jaunty Travessura was followed by Cancion de los Tsáchilas which is a compilation of four folk songs, cleverly arranged by Michael Sample. The energetic performances of these two works were, unfortunately marred by the loud footsteps of a very large group of audience members who incomprehensibly were allowed to enter while the music was going on. A violin and a cello joined the singers and pianist for two pieces depicting women in moments of reflection, Joan Szymkoʼs Always Coming Home and Jocelyn Hagen’s In the Lavender Stillness of Dawn. Nancy Telferʼs The Blue Eye of God employed breath sounds and whispers. Joy by John Muehleisen brought the first half to a happy conclusion. The ten choir directors are to be applauded for their fine work in preparing their choirs, and kudos to conductor Hilary Apfelstadt for pulling it all together in what must have been a short rehearsal time.

DCINY Carmina  Burana

DCINY Carmina Burana


The second half was devoted to one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the choral repertoire, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Once more the large chorus was the star. It was comprised of two hundred seventy-two singers from seven international choruses, none of whom sang on the first half. The biggest challenge in singing this music is learning the words, which are in Latin and an ancient form of German, and which often must be articulated in rapid fire manner. It takes hours of drill. It was obvious that these choruses and their directors had done their job well. They performed with commitment, confidence, tonal beauty and fine intonation. The large group was alternatively sensitive and powerful. The difficult men’s sextet “Si, Puer cum Puella,” written for solo voices, was wisely performed by all the men. This resolved the intonation and tessitura problems so often encountered in this piece. The women sang the lovely, tender middle section of “Floret silva nobilis” with delicacy and perfect ensemble. I was especially impressed by the splendid Brooklyn Youth Chorus. They sang as one, in perfect tune with beautiful sound. Undaunted by language difficulties, they performed by memory. How wonderful it is to hear the young people of our city demonstrate such musical accomplishment! Their conductor, Dianne Berkun, is surely one of our city’s treasures.

Unfortunately the soloists did not attain the high level set by the choruses. Baritone Keith Harris has a very beautiful voice, but often it wasn’t loud enough to cut through the orchestra. He also tended to sing flat in the soft passages. Soprano Penelope Shumate looked stunning in her strapless red gown as she sauntered provocatively across the stage. However, her high soprano voice was not ideally suited for “In Trutina.” This beautiful, simple, expressive song lies in the low register where her voice isn’t at its best. She was better suited for the high “Dulcissime,” where her tones rang out loud and clear. Before the concert began an announcement was made that the tenor soloist was sick but would nevertheless do his best. As New York City is full of singers, one would think that a healthy high tenor could have been found to serve as his replacement. Fortunately he has only one song, “Cignus ustus cantat” (“The roast swan”) He attempted to compensate for his vocal problems by hamming it up, pretending to conduct, and interacting with the chorus, When his singing voice gave out, he spoke his lines. He did manage to get out a few notes which showed what a lovely instrument is at his disposal on a better day. The forgiving audience applauded his effort.

The conductor, George Vance, held his huge forces together admirably, and the orchestra supported the singers with conviction and fine ensemble. This was a well-paced and exciting performance, which the large audience obviously loved. They leapt to their feet as soon as the lasts notes of the final “O Fortuna” had finished resounding.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Calling All Dawns in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents
Calling All Dawns
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Music Director; Eric A. Johnson, Geoffrey Paul Boers; Guest Conductors
Anonymous 4, Guest Artists
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
April 7, 2013

 Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is an organization that gives talented musicians and vocalists an opportunity to perform in world-class venues, often performing new works of both established composers and up-and-coming talents. Today’s concert was no exception; works from Mozart, Haydn, and John Rutter, with the New York premiere of Calling All Dawns, from new talent Christopher Tin, were on the program.

In what might have been called a pre-concert performance, Anonymous 4 opened with a set of six pieces done with the skill that has made then renowned. Possibly in keeping with the “anonymous” ideal, any information about these six pieces was withheld. It was a serious omission not to have the works named, in spite of the program noting “selections to be called from the stage”.  In this day and age when everything should be done to enlighten audiences and enhance the concert experience, a golden opportunity to foster further interest was lost.

Mozart’s Regina Coeli K. 276 is a jubilant work that honors the Virgin Mary. The trumpets and timpani lend the otherwise largely string orchestration a festive quality that is in keeping with the celebration of Easter.  There is a strong reminder of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, although it is not known whether Mozart had seen Handel’s score prior the composition.  Guest conductor Eric A. Johnson led a solid performance that featured High School and University singers from Illinois, Oregon, and California. Next came the Te Deum for the Empress Marie Therese of Franz Joseph Haydn.  Johnson styled this performance with skill, conveying the work’s regal air and showing considerable attention to detail. The transitions to C minor and back to C major were particularly sensitively done.  It seemed that conductor, orchestra, and chorus gained in confidence as the performance progressed.

John Rutter (b. 1945) describes his Gloria as a three-movement symphony that is “exalted, devotional, and jubilant by turns”.  Guest Conductor Geoffrey Paul Boers took the podium and wielded his baton with the demeanor of a wizard preparing to hurl thunderbolts.  From the arresting opening bars, one was put on notice that the Distinguished Concerts orchestra was pulling out all the stops, from the stunning brilliance of the brass playing to the electric energy in the percussion. It was especially enjoyable for this listener to hear these players shine so brightly, as I have almost always found them to be the equals of any I have heard anywhere.  The exuberant orchestra overshadowed the chorus in the outer movements, where the latter simply did not project enough volume. Interestingly enough, the singers’ than full sound turned out to be a blessing in the 2nd movement, where the chorus was actually quite radiant. In spite of these issues, it was an exciting, dynamic, and passionate performance that ended the half with a splash.

It must be a unique occurrence for a large-scale work to have its genesis from a theme written for a video game, but this is the case for Calling All Dawns, which was the only work on the second half.  In conversation with Jonathan Griffith, composer Christopher Tin (b. 1976) told the story of how Calling All Dawns came to be. The opening movement, Baba Yetu, was composed as the theme for the computer game Civilizations IV. It was so popular in the gaming world that the music went “viral”, with countless requests for more pieces from the composer.  Tin was inspired to write a large work that he described as a “four-year labor of love”.  Calling All Dawns is a forty-five minute, twelve-movement work, with each movement in a different language (Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, French, Latin, Irish, Polish, Hebrew, Farsi, Sanskrit, and Maori). The idea of a multi-cultural world where we are more similar than different was Mr. Tin’s stated goal.  Mr. Tin has a gift for writing music that is immediately accessible in its tonal consonance, rhythmically vital, and appealing to the emotions. It is easy to understand why his music is so popular. One can detect similarities to other composers’ work  (e.g. Karl Jenkins, Henryk Górecki in his Third Symphony, and Mike Oldfield, especially his Music of the Spheres), which might cause some to suggest the music is derivative, but I prefer the idea of a composer finding his voice. All these caveats aside, the pairing of Tin and DCINY is an ideal partnership, and it will be interesting to hear Mr. Tin’s next work, which DCINY will be premiering in 2014.

Conductor Jonathan Griffith was the master of the situation, as is the norm for this consummate leader and musician. Any composer should be thrilled to have him at the helm when his works are played.  The orchestra had already been excellent this afternoon, but they saved the best for the last in a performance that was done with style and grace.  The supporting chorus, with singers from Australia, the United Kingdom, Vermont, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York, was vibrant throughout with a strong performance that was not wanting in volume or passion. It was a joy to see the constantly changing soloists, from Anonymous 4, to others including members of the chorus who came forward and offered passionate performances. They were all stars today.  When two Maori in tribal dress entered the stage in the final movement and not only chanted the Maori lyrics, but did a ritual dance, it was that special DCINY “touch” that I have come to expect from this fine organization. The audience reacted after the final notes with the loudest and longest standing ovation I have ever heard at any concert. Mr. Tin was called to the stage and the ovation became deafening. It must have been one of the proudest moments in his life and it was wonderful to see. It’s an image I will not soon forget. Congratulations to DCINY for another winning performance.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY): Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International, Jonathan Griffith, Music Director; Penelope Shumate, soprano; Doris Brunatti, contralto;
Jorge Garza, tenor; Liam Moran, bass.
Avery Fisher Hall; Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 25, 2012

Written in the space of 24 days in 1741, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah is a work with a storied performance history.  Premiered in Dublin in 1742, it has been a mainstay of the repertoire since. Using a libretto from Charles Jennens, Messiah is the story of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.

Messiah is no stranger to reworking and revision. Handel himself rearranged and rewrote sections to suit his needs; selections could be added or deleted based on the talents available. Mozart produced a version in 1789 that is still in use today, although nineteenth-century critic Moritz Hauptmann caustically remarked that Mozart’s revisions were “stucco ornaments on a marble temple.”  The controversy has not abated. There have been “sing-a-long” editions and even a rock version performed and recorded. The version performed at today’s concert is generally attributed to Sir Thomas Beecham and Eugene Goossens, although Beecham’s contribution was overstated for many years by his widow.  It was not until the 1990s that Lady Beecham’s claims were refuted; the score was completely Goossens’s work.

Beecham commissioned fellow conductor and composer Goossens to re-orchestrate Messiah to utilize the full forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He felt that larger forces were needed to project the sound in increasingly large venues.  Beecham recorded this version in 1959; it is still available on CD today, and it continues to be controversial.  Purists who believe that Handel’s conception should remain true to the original find the Goossens version to be vulgar, while its defenders argue that the greater forces enhance the grandeur of the work.

Make no mistake; this is not your great-grandfather’s Messiah. It is brash, extroverted, and at times bombastic.  It is not Messiah – it is MESSIAH, with double the sound, new and improved, with cymbals and triangle! It is Messiah on steroids, the epitome of the saying “Go big or go home.”  This version is tailor-made for DCINY; an organization that never fails to pull out all the stops in putting on a big show.

Conductor Jonathan Griffith led the orchestra and 200-plus chorus with a sure hand. It would have been easy to lose control of these large forces, but Griffith was up to challenge of delivering the big sound without losing focus on the music itself.  The playing was excellent throughout and the exuberance of the percussionists was a special joy to see and hear. The trumpet playing in Behold, I tell you a mystery was particularly striking in its clarity and beauty of tone.  The chorus was well balanced and strong in its supporting role.

The four soloists had the biggest challenge, to sing their demanding parts while having to project enough to be heard over the large forces behind them. There were moments when each singer was in peril of being drowned out, but happily, they all overcame the dangers and delivered fine performances.  I believe each soloist became stronger and more confident as the performance progressed, as they made adjustments to project their voices.  Soprano Penelope Shumate was confident and assured; There were shepherds abiding in the field was a highlight of her performance. Contralto Doris Brunatti was compelling in her role; Behold, a virgin shall conceive was her best of several excellent solos. Tenor Jorge Garza sang his role with total involvement; one could feel the venom in the word “rebuke” in his solo, Thy rebuke hath broken his heart.  It was his He that dwelleth in heaven, though, that was the highlight of his performance to this listener. Finally, the talented Bass Liam Moran was not to be overshadowed by his fellow soloists. His solo, Why do the nations so furiously rage together?, was the high point of his outstanding singing.

One would be remiss if not making special mention of the Hallelujah chorus. It did not disappoint, delivered in a manner that could be described as over-the-top, complete with young members of the Distinguished Concerts Singers International joining in from the second tier in the audience (in what is becoming a signature feature of DCINY concerts). The audience stood spontaneously as they often do for the Hallelujah, and many could be seen singing along.  At the close, the audience roared its approval for several minutes.  The closing chorus, Worthy is the lamb that was slain, was performed with similar spirit. The excitement built to such a fever pitch that one bass in the chorus jumped in a moment early after a dramatic pause. The work was brought to a rousing close, and the audience responded with five minutes of thunderous applause, eliciting several curtain calls for the soloists and conductor Griffith. It was a well-deserved ovation to a memorable concert. Congratulations to DCINY for yet another winning performance.

The Profile The Life And The Faith Across The Notes in Review

The Profile The Life And The Faith Across The Notes
A Symphonic Poem written for piano, orchestra, and chorus
Mario Jazzetti, composer
The Chelsea Symphony Orchestra; New York Choral Society
Francesco Libetta, piano; Donata Cucinotta, soprano; Matt Morgan, tenor
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
May 12, 2012

In a pre-concert address, Maurico Jazzetti shared remembrances of his father, Mario Jazzetti. It was obvious that he had great esteem and love for his father, and this concert was his way of sharing that with the world. Mario Jazzetti’s The Profile The Life And The Faith Across The Notes was presented. Having remarked on his dream that “this work must be played at Lincoln Center,” the younger Jazzetti must have felt great joy at making this dream a reality.

Mario Jazzetti (1915-1986) began his piano studies at age five and gave his first concert at age nine. He earned his diploma in piano in Naples and had a successful performing career in Italy in the pre- and post- World War II years.  He immigrated to the United States in 1951, where he continued his career as a teacher and performer, including concerts at Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. The Profile The Life And The Faith Across The Notes was first performed in a two-piano version in 1983.  A planned orchestral version was cancelled due to Mr. Jazetti’s ill health in 1984.

Billed in the program as a symphonic poem, in the program notes as a symphony concerto, and on the Internet as a piano concerto, it is apparent that the presenter is undecided on a final designation. Despite its titles’ far-reaching ambitions, this work seems ultimately to be none of the above. One might call it a suite, but it is really a pastiche of six works, composed at different times in Mr. Jazzetti’s life and placed together. Split into two sections (four movements, followed after intermission by the last two), the six movements are meant to represent the life journey, from birth to the end of life. They are titled Ninna Nanna (Lullaby), La bicicletta (The Bicycle), Tristezza d’amore (The Sadness of Love), Gioia di una Promozione (Joy of Graduation)– La Farfalla (The Butterfly), Tragica Realta’ Della Vita (The Tragic Reality of Life, also called the War Concerto), and Ave Maria.

With one movement written in his teens (Ave Maria), another conceived during World War Two (The Tragic Reality of Life), and the rest at other times not detailed in the program notes, the work has an uneven quality as one might expect. The influences of Grieg (especially the Piano Concerto), Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Liszt, and other romantic composers were prominent throughout in an overtly derivative manner, yet without these composers’ individual formal clarity, the effect was that of a collage. Thus, despite the organization into phases of life, there was an amorphous quality to the set. Conventional cadenza-like passagework was frequently used as thematic material, so that melodic lines become almost undistinguishable as such, while harmonic progressions bordered on the formulaic. There were, to be sure, poignant moments, but the surrounding material overwhelmed them.

Pianist Francesco Libetta was the star of the evening. Playing with great abandon, he broke a string on the Fazioli piano during The Tragic Reality of Life movement, much to the amazement of the audience. Soprano Donata Cucinotta and tenor Matt Morgan gave strong performances as well. The New York Choral Society was solid in their role – though what precisely that role was meant to be might have been clearer had there been a printed text, either in the original Italian or in translation (which was missing for the solo singers as well), a considerable omission in this case. Last, but not least, the Chelsea Symphony Orchestra was excellent from start to finish in a performance that completely outclassed another orchestra’s earlier performance of the work, as recorded in Italy (since removed from YouTube). The audience gave the performers a prolonged standing ovation at concert’s end.

Distinguished Concerts International New York: DCINY in Review

Requiem X 2: Mozart and Clausen
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York
March 18, 2012

DCINY- Requiem

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) is an organization that believes in presenting concerts on the grand scale, with performers of all ages from schools and ensembles throughout the country. Having attended many DCINY concerts, I have seen and felt the excitement that fills the hall in anticipation of their performances.  Today was no exception, as over 200 singers filed onto the stage of Avery Fisher Hall with full orchestra; I was ready for a memorable concert. I was not disappointed.

The concert, entitled “Requiem X 2,” was just that, two Requiems. The first was the Requiem in D minor, K. 626 of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the second (New York Premiere) was the Requiem of DCINY composer-in-residence René Clausen.

Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626 has a storied history. Commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg as a memorial to his late wife, it was unfinished by Mozart at the time of his death in 1791.  His student Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed the work, using various sketches Mozart had left and his claim of being familiar with Mozart’s wishes about the composition.  How much of the work is Mozart and how much is Süssmayr is still being debated to this day.

Conductor Vance George led with a steady and confident manner. The orchestra took his lead and played with precision, capturing both stormy despair and heavenly spirit in equal measure. Special mention must be made of the “Tuba Mirum”’s excellent trombone soloist, who played with amazing clarity and tone. I wish that DCINY would list the orchestra personnel in the programs so they could be credited! Soprano Jennifer Aylmer sang with a clear, soaring beauty, and Mezzo-soprano Holly Sorensen was radiant in the solo part written for Contralto. Tenor Young-Ha Kim sang with impressive projection, and Bass-Baritone David Salsbery Fry delivered a strong and committed performance. What was particularly striking was how well the four soloists balanced in ensemble sections; it is not unusual for one voice to overshadow the others, but there was no instance of that here. The chorus, consisting of five choirs from high schools in Arizona and Indiana, and choral groups from California and Massachusetts, lent powerful support to capture the full scale of this emotionally supercharged work.

René Clausen (b. 1953), currently Associate Professor of Music at Concordia College in Minnesota, possesses the ability to write music of substance that is still within the technical grasp of a wide range of performers. This quality has made Dr. Clausen a favorite composer of many choirs in the country.  He writes of his Requiem that it was written to be “accessible and ‘user-friendly’ to singers, players, and the audience.” One could say with confidence that he has succeeded in his goal.

Conductor Bradley Ellingboe was an engaging, attentive, and fully involved conductor whose dedication any composer would be pleased to have. He bounded athletically from the wings onto the stage and jumped to the podium. One could feel the energy even before the first note was played. Once again, I must give kudos to excellent soloists, this time on the French horn and the oboe.

If one was expecting a more modern version of Mozart, that notion was quickly dispelled. Clausen’s overall conception is not dark and foreboding, but serene and hopeful. Clausen has written a work of great power, with moments of conflict, naturally enough the “Dies Irae” with its sinister pizzicato basses and angry brass declarations, but the work as a whole radiated beauty. Soprano Leslie Umphrey was angelic in the “Pie Jesu.” Tenor Sam Shepperson contributed his vocal mastery with refinement, and the indefatigable Bass-Baritone David Salsbery Fry was back and still strong. Four choirs from New Mexico made up the over 200 strong chorus. After the last measures of the ethereal “In Paradisum” quieted to pianissimo, then faded to complete silence, one could hear the collective exhalation of the audience. After what seemed to be an eternity, the audience exploded into applause, which became thunderous when Dr. Clausen came to the stage for a well-deserved bow. This is a work that can stand comparison to any other Requiem and I do hope that it will be recorded and made available to the public. Congratulations to Dr. Clausen and DCINY!

DCINY: A Concert of Commemoration Honoring the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

DCINY: A Concert of Commemoration Honoring the
Tenth Anniversary of 9/11Distinguished Concerts Orchestra International
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Rene Clausen, Guest Conductor
The Really Big Chorus
Jonathan Griffith, Rehearsal Conductor
Karl Jenkins, Guest Conductor
Avery Fisher Hall
September 11, 2011

DCINY: A Concert of Commemoration Honoring the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

One of the most extraordinary concerts of the last few years took place at Avery Fisher Hall on September 11th, 2011. In performances presented by DCINY, known as Distinguished Concerts International New York, the audience couldn’t have received a better gift: beautifully performed, inspiring music. The crowd in attendance was so large that the lines of people spiraled around the columns in the lobby of Avery Fisher—everyone waiting to be uplifted, and they were.

Samuel Barber’s familiar “Adagio for Strings,” made even more famous by the war film “Platoon” (1986), was a highly appropriate choice for an opener. Rene Clausen prepared a solid, polished account of the work. The strings played with excellent intonation, the ensemble-playing was crystal clear, and the tempo moved along at just the right pace. The audience was clearly touched by the music and the performance. In Clausen’s own “Memorial,” the harrowing events of 9/11 were presented with a rather literal, vivid picture. For me, it hit a bit too close to home, but it ultimately seemed to win over the audience; the movements were “September Morning”, which was serene and sunny as the day began, “The Attack”, complete with crashing chords, dissonance and chaos, and the lovely “Prayers” and “Petitions” movements. It was this second half of the work that helped put people more at ease. Bradley Ellingboe, the Bass-Baritone soloist, sang with great expression and eloquence. The Distinguished Concerts Orchestra International and Distinguished Concerts Singers International performed with deep conviction and connection to all those in attendance, and as a result, the audience—some of them family members of victims—was riveted at every turn.

After intermission, we heard Karl Jenkins’s “For the Fallen: In Memoriam Alfryn Jenkins” in its US premiere. Only four minutes long, it still made an indelible impression. “Armed Man: A Mass for Peace”—on the other hand—is epic in length (63 minutes) and often had the weight, relevance and spiritual profundity of a Mahler symphony.  Even though they didn’t have a lot to sing, the soloists, Erika Grace Powell, Charlotte Daw Paulsen, Brian Cheney and Bradley Ellingboe, were excellent. The Distinguished Concerts Orchestra International and The Really Big Chorus under Maestro Jenkins sounded lush, resonant and deeply committed.

The afternoon will linger in the hearts and souls of those who were lucky enough to be on hand for this important concert on this commemorative day.

The New York Philharmonic in Review

The New York Philharmonic in Review
Alan Gilbert, Conductor
Lisa Batiashvili, Violinist
Avery Fisher Hall; New York, NY
May 6, 2011

Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic; Photo by Chris Lee.

 From the moment she began, the audience was gripped by soloist Lisa Batiashvili’s bravura interpretation of Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto. The audacity and sheer technical brilliance of her playing were truly stunning.  Completely at ease, Batiashvili powered through blisteringly fast string crossings and finger-crippling passages with effortless finesse. So strong was the spell she cast that at the conclusion of her delicate second movement, the theater erupted with coughing: out of respect, the audience had strained not to make a sound until the pause.

 Batiashvili confidently attacked the thorny elements of Bartok’s concerto, but at times lyrical motifs lacked warmth and some solos felt ever so slightly rushed. Nevertheless, her flawless intonation, unshakeable sense of rhythm, and mega-watt stage presence proved that Batiashvili is truly an extraordinary artist.

 After intermission, the New York Philharmonic presented Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55, “Eroica”. Conductor Alan Gilbert coaxed a warm, round tone out of the Phil, and ensured that Beethoven’s symphony retained a sparkling sense of transparency even in its stormiest moments.

 Careful not to allow the brass to overcome the rest of the orchestra, (as Zubin Mehta was often criticized of during his conducting tenure), Gilbert conjured a sensitive balance, which allowed all of the solo lines to soar above the cushion of sound generated by the rest of the orchestra. Beethoven’s idiosyncratic accents were also brought out beautifully by intelligent bowing choices in the violin sections owing to the fact that Gilbert is himself an accomplished violinist.

 The “Marcia Funebre” was the most gripping movement– at the same time devastatingly bleak and sublime. It was perhaps the most moving live interpretation of this movement that I have ever witnessed.

 When Beethoven’s “Eroica” first debuted, it was criticized for being too long. At the conclusion of the Philharmonic’s performance, however, the audience at Avery Fisher Hall was left wishing the heroic strains of Beethoven’s melodies would never cease.

 –Holly Nelson for New York Concert Review; New York, NY

Live from Lincoln Center/New York Philharmonic in Review

Live from Lincoln Center/New York Philharmonic in Review
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Lang Lang, piano
New Year’s Eve Concert; December 31, 2010
Avery Fisher Hall, telecast on PBS

Lang Lang - Photo Credit: Detlef Schneider

Perhaps as a contribution to the ongoing diplomatic efforts at improving American-Russian relations, the New York Philharmonic’s Music Director Alan Gilbert chose an all-Tchaikovsky program for the Orchestra’s traditional New Year’s Eve concert. It featured a selection from three major genres of the composer’s work: the Polonaise from the opera “Eugene Onegin,” the second act of the ballet “The Nutcracker,” and the first Piano Concerto, with the brilliant, young Chinese pianist Lang Lang as soloist.

Seen on television, it was a wonderfully varied, exciting concert, a bonanza of beguiling melodies, exhilarating dances, exuberant orchestra playing, and superlative pianism. The musicians threw themselves into these repertory favorites with a freshness undimmed by familiarity. The Polonaise had a zestful swing; the “Nutcracker” dances were fascinating for their idiomatic, rhythmic and instrumental diversity. “Nutcracker,” the ballet, had been a ubiquitous presence throughout the Holidays, performed not only–as usual–at the State Theatre by the City Ballet, but also at the Brooklyn Academy by Ballet Theatre. Still, hearing that delightful music played by a great orchestra in full view on a concert stage instead of from a pit was grand.

The Tchaikovsky Concerto is one of Lang Lang’s signature pieces; he first performed it as a boy of 13. He himself feels that his interpretation has deepened his ability to listen to and interact with the orchestra grown more acute and spontaneous. At this performance, he certainly maintained a strong contact with the conductor and the orchestral soloists by looks, gestures, and, less visibly but no less perceptibly, by projecting and telegraphing his musical intentions. Indeed, his immersion in the music was so complete that one got the feeling he became one with it, letting it flow from his head and his heart to his fingertips. The most amazing aspect of his playing is not that he can generate incredible speeds without losing clarity, and huge volumes of sound without losing quality, but that all his excesses – physical, rhythmical, and emotional – are never a showman’s indulgences, but an expression of a genuine, spontaneous response to the music. True, his tempo changes are perhaps too frequent and too drastic, but he makes them sound totally natural. Of course, his liberties demand extraordinary cooperation and sensitivity from conductors and orchestras, but the musicians of the Philharmonic were right with him in fact and spirit. From her seat behind him, concertmistress Sheryl Staples watched him with obvious admiration, her face lighting up with a smile at every felicitous turn of phrase or change of expression. At the end, the ovations went on and on.

Lincoln Center’s live telecasts are its best gift to New Yorkers, especially since it’s housebound and infirm, and the Philharmonic broadcasts offer an extra bonus: the opportunity, denied regular concert goers, to get a frontal view of the conductor. Watching Alan Gilbert in action is a delight: swaying with the rhythm, his face wreathed in smiles, his enjoyment of the music and the gorgeous sounds produced by his players sheds a warm glow over both sides of the footlights. 

Mahler Symphony No. 6 – New York Philharmonic Review

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Avery Fisher Hall, New Yrok, NY
October 1, 2010

New York Philharmonic led by Alan Gilbert-Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger

In 2009, the New York Philharmonic, America’s oldest orchestra, departed from its longtime tradition of engaging venerable European Music Directors, and appointed 42-year-old Alan Gilbert, the first native New Yorker to hold the post. Though he had established himself in previous appearances, his comparative youth seemed to cause some misgivings, which were dispelled by his very successful inaugural season. Now his performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony has convinced all who heard it that New York City has set its own homegrown star on the musical firmament.

Comparisons are notoriously odious, but it was impossible to avoid contrasting, even unconsciously, Gilbert’s approach with that of the two conductors of the Vienna Philharmonic, on display the same week. The period-style-influenced Harnoncourt seemed intent on proving a scholarly point, the charismatic Dudamel on proving himself; Gilbert was intent on serving the music and communicating his love for it.

Watching him conduct is a pleasure. He never exaggerates or calls attention to himself, making his  gestures fit the music without acting it out, and, however exciting or emotional the moment may be, his beat remains perfectly clear. Conducting mostly from memory, he knows the music down to the smallest detail, and responds to it with total involvement.

An articulate speaker and writer, Gilbert has sometimes addressed the audience before a concert to introduce the music to be performed; this time, he discussed it in the printed program, focusing on the conductor’s responsibility to make interpretive choices and decisions.

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is beset by uncertainties. He kept changing his mind about the order of the two middle movements, and about the number of hammer-strokes in the Finale. Supposedly intended to represent the blows of Fate, Mahler originally wrote three, then eliminated the third as too final; conductors have made their own decisions ever since. For reasons explained in his essay, Gilbert opted to place the slow movement second, the Scherzo third, and to include the third hammer stroke.

But there are choices to be made in all Mahler symphonies, which, though less obvious to the listener, are no less crucial to the interpretation. Mahler was a superb contrapuntalist and orchestrator; he wove a dense, complex texture of many independently moving lines and voices. They all seem equally important in theory, but in practice, it is obviously impossible to make them all equally prominent; conductors constantly have to decide which should be highlighted. This is one reason why a familiar symphony can sound almost like a new piece in a different conductor’s hands: one hears lines that one never heard before.

 Gilbert again demonstrated his proven ability to make the densest scores transparent, bringing out many usually obscured lines without entirely suppressing the rest. Surprisingly, one significant detail got lost: the changes from major to minor that magically turn sunlight into darkness.

Mahler often changes color by distributing melodic lines between different instruments; connecting them without interrupting their continuity creates another challenge for conductors and orchestras. The Philharmonic musicians handled it admirably: their take-overs were totally imperceptible, and all the solos were marvelous. Altogether, the orchestra has never sounded better or more inside the music; the audience was drawn in from first note to last. But the performance was Alan Gilbert’s triumph: having made all the right choices, he paid meticulous attention to every detail, yet sustained his grasp of the whole, infinitely complex work, its manifold mood and character-changes, and its towering climaxes – a truly impressive achievement.

Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Joshua Bell and the New York Philharmonic in Review

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Joshua Bell, violin
Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY
October 6, 2010

Joshua Bell- Photo Credit: Marc Hom

 Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, started the new season with two contrasting works, one familiar, one unfamiliar: Richard Strauss’ lush, exuberant “Don Juan” and Hindemith’s glittering, humorous “Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber.” Counting both among his favorites, he programmed them on the Gala Opening, on the first set of subscription concerts, and again two weeks later, but paired them each time with different works, including two virtuoso violin concertos: the Mendelssohn with Itzhak Perlman and the Sibelius with Joshua Bell.

One can assume that the concerts were attended by mostly different audiences, but the intrepid souls who heard all three programs were rewarded not only by some fabulous fiddling, but also by the chance to compare three different performances of the same works.

The latest program began with Debussy’s atmospheric “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” written 1892-94. Inspired by a poem of the same title by Stéphane Mallarmé published in 1876, the music depicts a faun passing a languorous afternoon in dreams and reveries. A true “tone painting,” it seems made of airy, dappled sunlight and fleeting shadows. The orchestration shimmers and glows with shifting, glittering colors; sinuous, elusive melodies wind through the texture; harp glissandi suggest leaves stirred by the breeze. Every instrumental timbre, singly and in combination, contributes to the sensuous, seductive effect. The piece, a test for a virtuoso orchestra, especially the woodwinds, features one of the literature’s greatest solo flute parts played wonderfully on this occasion by the Philharmonic’s principal flutist, Robert Langevin.

Joshua Bell’s performance of the Sibelius was terrific. The concerto brings out all his strengths: the effortless, unlimited virtuosity, glorious, variable tone, and romantic sensibility. The opening seemed to come from a great ice-bound distance, then, breaking free of the arctic cold, the sound became vibrant and intense; the great upward runs swept through the orchestra with dazzling bravura. The slow movement was dark, warm, and very expressive, and culminated in an ecstatic climax. The Finale was very fast and brilliant, but immaculately clear; even the impossible scales in thirds were perfect. In top form, Joshua Bell seems to be reaching new violinistic and communicative heights with every concert.

The Strauss and Hindemith also became more impressive with each performance. Gilbert seemed to exhibit greater confidence, freedom, and exuberance, and to encourage the musicians to do the same. In fact, the Strauss also became faster, demanding ever greater virtuosity from the players, and louder, with the percussion, partly placed toward the front of the stage next to the first violins, rattling the rafters – and the audience. But the build-ups were perfectly paced, the climaxes grand and rapturous.

It was good to hear the rarely-played Hindemith three times in close succession; repeated listening (and playing) clarified the complex counterpoint and intricate texture, and brought out the work’s light-hearted jocularity – a characteristic not often encountered in this essentially serious composer’s work.