Tag Archive: Beethoven

Alice Tully Hall Opening Nights: Coming Home – Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Starr Theater, Alice Tully Hall. Photo Iwan Baan.

Any one who did not experience the Upper West Side in the late 1960s, when Lincoln Center was nearing completion, or who has forgotten, might read Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet. There was an apocalyptic feeling in the air—more palpable than anything the Bush administration tried to conjure up— as one negotiated panhandlers, muggers, hippies, and refuse, as one made one’s way up and down Broadway. These public phenomena have not vanished, but New York had reached a peak of dysfunctionality, and western civilization seemed to be self-destructing at a fierce boil: cities were decaying around the country, reading and writing seemed doomed to obsolescence, tv was king, and a lot of people were worried about the cultural partnership of drugs and music. In a few sentences, Bellow conjures up what all this felt like on the street. Exposed glass walls seemed no more than an invitation to vandals, and check points were beginning to appear in the seedy lobbies of public buildings.

The public part of Lincoln Center, which was already finished, tried all too hard to emulate Rockefeller Center as an urban landmark, and in design the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana in the EUR, but it seemed frigid, ugly, and vulgar. The fountain in the piazza between the New York State Theater, the Metropolitan Opera, and Philharmonic Hall invited minor mischief—the sort of thing drunken Americans do in Rome—but it failed to humanize the exposed space, which was especially dire as cold winds whipped through it in January. New Yorkers weren’t ready for open urban spaces yet, but, as bigger and even less hospitable spaces were opened up around the World Trade Center, they began to colonize them. The more business-like parts of Lincoln Center, still under construction, were by nature and function private spaces, and hard, brutalist façades seemed an entirely appropriate gesture. Juilliard was among those private spaces, and, if one attended a public event (They were also many private ones.) in Alice Tully Hall,the approach was an entirely different experience from, say, going to hear the New York Philharmonic. One entered the old Alice Tully Hall rather ignominiously through a squat entrance lobby, which was buried under a platform, itself dwarfed by a mountain of classrooms, practice rooms, and offices. Raised up by gallows-like piers, the Juilliard School was totally divorced from the street and the hall—a monolith of heavy, brutalistic forms—the work of Pietro Belluschi, a distinguished Italian-born architect who emigrated to America at a young age and was trained here.

Sergio Tiempo at Queen Elizabeth Hall: Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, and Ravel

As usual for me, this was a concert I chose for the repertoire rather than the performer – three of my favourite composers and one (Liszt) I want to investigate further. It’s always been pretty much just about the music(, man…), a philosophy I’d like to outgrow. There’s not many ‘artistes’ in classical music that I feel either enthused or knowledgeable enough about to call myself a fan of yet, but one exception is Martha Argerich, who has consistently championed Sergio Tiempo and regularly performs with him. Based on this knowledge and what I’d gathered about him from reading snippets here and there, I went into his debut Southbank performance, part of their International Piano Series, with hopes that he had some of the mercuriality and fire that I love in Argerich.

Paavo Järvi at Royal Albert Hall

Punchy, zingy, raspy, and rushed. By far the most erratic concert of the summer season was delivered at last night’s Prom where Paavo Jarvi brought his small band of Bremen town musicians (that is, the well-regarded Deutsche Kammer-Philharmonie Bremen). When Haydn made his second celebrated visit to London in 1794, he employed an orchestra of up to eighty musicians playing before crowds of perhaps a thousand. So it’s pure affectation to ask forty musicians to play two of Beethoven’s most powerful works, the Violin Concerto and Symphony no. 5, in the yawning spaces of Albert Hall, which seats over six thousand. In the name of period style we were treated last night to three double basses, all but unheard beyond the first few rows. They might as well have sawed the air.

Eschenbach and David Fray with the San Francisco Symphony: Dalbavie, Beethoven, and Brahms

There’s an improvisational mindset in the American character which can sometimes be hard on a European musician who composes according to a “system”. We are a nation of pragmatic, rather than theoretical listeners. We tend to disregard instruction manuals and learn by getting behind the wheel. We expect music to be ergonomic. Dodecaphony isn’t driveable, we find, so we leave it on the lot. The tires are twelve-sided, and all the knobs and levers are in the wrong places. Sorry! No sale. And now we distrust everything cerebral coming down the pike!

Chailly, Lortie, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra play Beethoven at Symphony Hall; Levine All-Beethoven with the BSO

Ludwig van Beethoven

A couple of years ago the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Chailly visited Boston and gave a wonderful Symphony Hall concert of Richard Strauss tone poems. The orchestra, with a lot of young members, played splendidly, with great group spirit. And Chailly gave extraordinary purpose and meaning to the music. He and the orchestra under his leadership showed care and commitment with every bar, every note, and fashioned each piece into a compelling organic whole. Wow! one felt. Friends of mine in New York heard the same program a week later there and had much the same reaction.

Boulez and Barenboim conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez, Wagner and Beethoven

Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, 1948

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Daniel Barenboim, Conductor Carnegie Hall, January 15, 2010 Beethoven, Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” Wagner, Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde Schoenberg, Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 Encore: J. Strauss Jr., Unter Donner und Blitz, Op. 324 Vienna…
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Gustavo Dudamel leads the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra at the Proms

Wunderkindfest. Unless you are a stubborn opinionator, performances can confuse you at times. I was flummoxed last night at the Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and his Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, in a concert I was expecting to enjoy, though not to the utmost. The Berlioz Symphonie fantastique wore out its welcome many years ago, and only a brilliant performance can redeem it for me. That Dudamel did not deliver. Sparkling as he is in the bright media limelight, the skyrocketing young Venezuelan has to have the goods, too. In this case, his reading was flat, disjointed, and plodding, with a drawn-out Scene aux champs that lasted long enough for Madame Defarge to knit a quilt. The guillotine movement that followed was coarse and blatty, which is how the whole reading went, either in slow mo with exaggerated emphases or sped up recklessly. Dudamel’s inability to sustain tension in soft passages, one of the most blatant failings in a bad conductor, shocked me.

In Praise of Herbert von Karajan, with a Selective Critical Discography

My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.