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?
The Austrian Cultural Forum in New York (ACFNY, or Österreichische Kulturforum New York/ÖKF), apart from the recent events mentioned in our account of the "Vienna, City of Dreams" Festival centered at Carnegie Hall, hosts a lively series of concerts and exhibitions in its clean, if somewhat edgy, modernistic structure on 51st Street, just East of Fifth Avenue—the design of Raimund Abraham, a Vienna-trained architect from the Tyrol, who has practiced in New York since 1971. As this example suggests, the Forum takes care to balance cultural initiatives from Austria with local creativity, often collaborating with the equally progressive Czech Center, housed in its equally up-to-date facility on East 74th Street.
I was part of the capacity crowd at Boston’s Symphony Hall (March 6) that rose to its collective feet to cheer BSO music director designate Andris Nelson’s first opera with his new orchestral family. Richard Strauss is one of his favorite composers, and at the press conference the day before he announced that among the ten relatively conservative programs he’s doing in his upcoming first season as music director, he’s scheduled two familiar Strauss tone poems, Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life—“Not about myself,” he joked). The BSO’s only opera next season, one of its few daring choices of repertoire, will be Charles Dutoit leading the first BSO performance of Szymanowski’s King Roger, with Polish baritone Marius Kwiecień repeating his Paris and Santa Fe triumphs in the title role.
The San Francisco Symphony is just about off and running for a three week European tour. If last night's performance of the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique is any indication, it will succeed heartily. And those lucky enough to hear Julia Fischer perform the Prokofiev D major concerto (she joins the orchestra mid-tour for Dortmund, Prague and Vienna) will be doubly dazzled.
Kiki Smith’s work in recent years has developed a trajectory of landscape. In the Neuberger Museum of Arts’ Visionary Sugar: Works by Kiki Smith of 2013, the tapestries, sculptures, and drawings suggested a journey in space and in time. Her new exhibition, Wonder, at the Pace Gallery continues this direction with sculptures (pedestal, wall and suspended), tapestry, glass paintings, and three-dimensional leaded and painted glass sculptures. There is a wealth of glass.
Here in San Francisco we are fortunate to experience in fairly rapid succession the world's great violinists, especially the young ones rising. (And sometimes the older ones falling: Pinchas Zukerman's recent rough and scrapie visit with the Royal Philharmonic was disappointing—a soaring career tumbling for the nets). But it has generally been a feast: James Ehnes, Simone Lamsma, and now Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang, just to name a few. Given the level of excellence these days, it is sometimes hard to pick a winner and know what winning means. All are remarkably good. But I'll go out on a limb here.
The Major League of Composers may be the sterile, misshapen offspring of an uneasy union between critical approbation and public enthusiasm, but, like the mule, it is very obstinate and not entirely useless. If we first acknowledge that it is meaningless to anyone who is not in some way part of the “classical” music crowd, we can see that within that crowd it represents with fair accuracy a broad spectrum of responses. Performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at Lincoln Center are usually sold out weeks ahead of time. Beethoven’s symphonies are still a greater draw than anyone else’s. People don’t go to these concerts because they have been told that the composers are “great” but because they find the music thrilling and uplifting.
It's not our custom to review performances we post, but I will say a few words about this concert. Brahms's Third Symphony is notoriously difficult to perform successfully. I have heard great conductors fail in it. The Toscanini story is famous. None of his NBC Symphony performances quite gel, and there was always much discussion about why this particular symphony, which seemed so well-suited to his temperament evaded him, until his splendid performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra became generally available as a recording many years after his last visit to London at the very end of his career. The puzzlement about Nelsons' recent performance with the BSO is another case in point. Tonu Kalam has no such problem here. By adopting a gentle, lyrical approach to the work, Kalam achieves a performance that is musically and emotionally coherent—one of the finest I've heard.