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?
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.