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.
Indian summer is a favorite time of year in San Francisco. The city's deceptively cutting winds give way to something approaching balminess. And one gears up, if not for romance, then surely for a new Symphony season to warm the heart, excite the pulse and remind one that art is the password to beauty's permanence. I've often commented about the happy spirit of our symphony...and do so again. There exist surly orchestras, whose players sit looking for all the world as though they'd gladly wring the conductor's neck as play for him. (These tend to be Russian!) But before I'm accused of national prejudices, I should point out, as an old New Yorker, that the New York Philharmonic is quite capable of gathering onstage looking as though they'd like to kill each other! Perhaps it is Panglossian naïveté to think comity reigns here, but it certainly seemed so on Saturday.
This season marked the 75th Anniversary of the Celebrity Series of Boston, founded by Aaron Richmond, whose widow, Nancy Richmond Winsten, sponsors the piano events and is still a familiar attendee. I have a deep sense of nostalgia about the Celebrity Series. The very first concert I ever attended in Boston was with the Budapest String Quartet (my favorite quartet) in 1962. It was my first year of graduate school (I was a very young grad student) and I was living on a $1500 a year scholarship. I had neither time nor money for anything as frivolous as a chamber music concert. But I had to go. The Jordan Hall box office told me the performance was sold out... unless I was willing to take a cheap stage seat. So there I was, sitting a few feet away from the Budapest Quartet playing Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert. It remains one of the greatest concerts I ever heard in my life.
Whenever you attend an orchestral concert, I'm sure you will have noticed that "Double D" on your ticket stub represents not the seating of the audience by bra size (an intriguing notion), but something more like a banishment to Siberia! "DD" is the last row of orchestra seats in Davies Hall, and at that distance music can become less visceral. This time, though, I was happy to sit back in the hall, particularly for the music programmed on the second half.
When do you ever see a bill outside Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center with no other names but "Hindemith," "Webern" and "Stravinsky?" And at that with an extremely well played concert behind it with energy and seriousness and intelligence? Only at the ballet it seems.
In the rather too large historical canon of unnecessary musical deaths, I've always been sorry that Jean-Baptiste Lully stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting staff during a concert. He was at the height of his powers, and the resulting infection killed him. Lully's music conveys an innate danceable grace that most Baroque music lacks — and a very human sense of sentiment — a sweet nostalgia rather like Mendelssohn's, in fact. Pablo Heras-Casado's program last Friday at the SFS was deliberately laid out as a neoclassic feast.
The style of the New York City Ballet is almost tree-like, branching and spreading in a floral rather than faunal manner, achieving a harmonious whole that is not purely rational or classical or athletic or anything covered by a single label. Their pure and natural variety of grace certainly suits Balanchine’s choreography, bringing out its best qualities. Allegro Brilliante, as the title might suggest, opens with style and grace, there is a certain abstraction with this stylish dancing before a plain blue screen and following no definite plot or action. We have Tchaikovsky’s music speaking to us very eloquently through Clotilde Otranto’s baton and Elaine Chelton’s fingers, music with fairly strong and definite, but not heavy, emotions. The costumes, the women’s light dresses in gentle hues and secondary colors and the men’s loose sleeves and waistcoats, do not place them absolutely as characters, but are enough to complement simply the movements. Yet there is a sense of a social entity, of mute social forces at work, drowned out by the music perhaps, and even a suggestion of court in the group scenes in their almost 17th Century style of abstraction, as they blur the lines slightly between social and theatrical dancing; the interactions of the dancers on stage are absorbing and interesting, brought across by their dramatic sense, their sense of theatre. The dancing doesn’t borrow openly from any real historical form but somehow the push and pull of social dancing is suggested. The piece at least gives the feeling of being indoors. Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette dancing the leads give a particularly strong sense of conversation in their dancing together in the pas de deux and also amongst the larger group. Nothing happens, the ballet remains abstract, yet it develops in an arc into something very moving and ineffable beyond the music, as if the entire piece, developed into a whole wishes to give something to you, and the performance succeeded in this and the lack of downrightness was very refreshing.
Just in time for the celebrations marking the centenary of the first performance of The Rite of Spring, in Paris on May 29, 1913, a cylinder recording has turned up in a storeroom at the Hotel du Prince in Geneva. Probably unplayed for a century, it preserves with astonishing clarity a discussion involving the scenarist NICOLAS ROERICH, the impresario SERGE DIAGHILEV, the dancer-choreographer VASLAV NIJINSKY, and the work’s composer.