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*+-For years, New York City seemed to have missed out on the extraordinary efflorescence of research, study, and practice, which has made historically informed performance such an essential part of music-making in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The early music scene was hardly non-existent, but it was thin in comparison to centers like Boston, London, Amsterdam, and Paris, patronized by a small band of enthusiasts who at one time actually looked the part, crowding into Manhattan’s less fashionable churches in colorful woolen tunics, knitted caps, and Earth Shoes. There don’t seem to be many of those people left around, and a much larger range of audiences, spanning all age groups, now hear historical performances in the major venues, especially Carnegie Hall
*+-One can’t help feeling mildly shocked when one realizes that the Chicago Symphony is now alone among the great American orchestras in employing one of the great senior conductors as Music Director. Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco is close to him in age, but nowhere near him in authority. Franz Welser-Möst has something like authority, but not the age, and one might say that his conviction in following his own lights has not quite developed into the kind of authority conductors like Muti and Chailly command.
*+-The periodic visits of the Berlin Philharmonic are events most New York music lovers look forward to with keen anticipation, not least myself. I’d even have gone to the Carnegie Hall Opening Night Gala, if that were their only concert in the City this season, to hear the Bruch Violin Concerto and Anne-Sophie Mutter once more, but fortunately that was not necessary. The following evening they played the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, one of his works I particularly admire and enjoy, and the complete Firebird, only excerpted in the gala program, and that second program offered more. In fact they played four concerts at Carnegie and one at the Park Avenue Armory, a very earnest one, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, complete with costumes and staging by Peter Sellars.
*+-Words like “Lively,” “energetic,” and “idiosyncratic” are understatements when it comes to the fiery interpretations of Baroque ensemble music—above all Vivaldi’s—Fabio Biondi has achieved with his virtuoso string orchestra, Europa Galante. In this capacity he comfortably alternates, in true Baroque fashion, between his role as leader and, when called for, as soloist. Last February 20, he appeared as a soloist with Kenneth Weiss, great New York-based harpsichordist, for a program consisting mostly of Bach, with one work by an Italian native, the Bergamasque Pietro Antonio Locatelli. Once one heard a movement or two of Bach’s Violin Sonata in G Major, it became clear that the program was founded on an argument—that Bach’s Violin Sonatas, which he wrote around 1725-6 at Cöthen, are essentially Italianate in character—no surprise, in fact. Mr. Biondi’s brilliance and warm Sicilian temperament blazed out in every bar, with strongly inflected phrases and dramatic pauses between them. Not everyone appreciates Biondi’s intense musicianship. For my part, I admire it and very much enjoy his performances of Vivaldi and other Italians. In this concert, however, I found his playing mannered and distracting. Of course we all know that Bach looked to Italian models in his instrumental music, above all Vivaldi, of whom Förkel said that his music “taught him to think musically.”
*+-Nowadays, visiting orchestras often play two or three concerts in New York, and, best of all, these are sometimes “curated” into themed series, like the VPO’s under Boulez and Barenboim a few years ago. This year, Carnegie Hall is presenting an exceptionally ambitious event, Vienna, City of Dreams, which goes beyond the Vienna Philharmonic’s unprecedented seven-concert series of symphonic and operatic works, and includes chamber music concerts, contemporary music, symposia, film screenings, and a few events including the visual arts, including Vienna Complex, a contemporary group exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum, which has organized most of the events outside Carnegie Hall itself, although no significant exhibitions of the art of the periods represented by the concerts at Carnegie Hall. (The other piece of Vienna in New York, the Neue Galerie, is offering nothing but limited free tours for ticket holders and discounts in their gift shop.) Theater and literature went virtually unrepresented. (A Viennese theater festival, including the Burgtheater, would have been welcome—magnificent, even.) A language barrier in our day of ubiquitous supertitles?
*+-A portion of the rich but sometimes neglected trove of American symphonies was given a welcome exposure during the valuable Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall in early May, thanks to the ongoing commitment to this repertory of music directors David Alan Miller and Leonard Slatkin. The beneficiary composers, Morton Gould and Charles Ives, both stand apart from the mid-century symphonic mainstream, also neglected, of Piston, Sessions, Schuman, Harris, Diamond, et al. It was a fascinating juxtaposition, particularly since Gould’s symphony has been largely absent since its premier in 1947, and most of Ives’s works had to wait lengthy intervals before receiving their first performances.
*+-Marc-André Hamelin, piano 92nd Street Y January 30, 2013 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Organ Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 (arr. Theodor Szantó) Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) Sonatina seconda Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Images, Book I Reflets dans l’eau Hommage à Rameau Mouvement L’isle joyeuse Marc-André Hamelin (b. 1961) Variations on a Theme by Paganini […]
*+-My path to an enthusiastic appreciation of Daniel Barenboim’s music-making has, I confess, been a long one. In his early years, I found his willed seriousness, both as a pianist and as a conductor, off-putting. The effect was not only rather dour, but smacked of affectation as well. My conversion began with some of his more recent Liszt orchestral recordings and became definitive in the magnificent Tristan he conducted at the Met in autumn of 2008. This is not to say that I am any less aware of the wilfulness of his approach to music. When he performs he makes specific decisions about his overall interpretation as well as the execution of the smaller units, and the listener is always aware that she or he is hearing an interpretation. Even in seemingly spontaneous outbursts, there is an element of arbitrariness. The most totally convincing Barenboim performance I have heard in the past was that Tristan.