Stravinsky

Music

Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Lincoln Center: Greatness in search of a Cause?

In order to be great, a musician or musical institution needs a defining trait or sense of purpose.[1. The L. A. Phil. Website clearly gets this. About their tour of which these were the concluding concerts, it states “Led by our Music Director, we took a typically audacious set of programs on the road. We played programs that said, ‘This is who we are and this is what we think is important.’”] But the Los Angeles Philharmonic, it seems to me, is currently a work in progress. Its leader, the immensely talented Gustavo Dudamel, has already (and almost automatically) placed a unique stamp on the orchestra’s repertory by introducing or elevating the status of hitherto underrepresented music by Latin American composers, much of it brilliantly attractive and original. But in its pair of concerts in New York, such repertory was absent.
Dance

The New York City Ballet’s All Balanchine and Stravinsky Festival

The New York City Ballet began its fall season at the David H. Koch Theater with a three-program tribute to the legendary choreographer/composer duo of Balanchine and Stravinsky. The first installment (which this reviewer unfortunately did not see) featured the classic Greek trilogy of Orpheus, Apollo, and Agon. The second program comprised the most overtly Russian collaborations of the two artists, drawing upon their common background in rich folk and fairy tale traditions.
Contemporary Music

Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz in Salonen’s Violin Concerto, with Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin and Stravinsky’s Complete Firebird

This concert was without a doubt one of the great events of the season, whether in Boston or New York, and certainly a high point in the BSO's unexpectedly patchy year, at least as far as guest conductors were concerned, which seemed almost miraculous on paper, given the short notice allowed by James Levine's final health setback, but in practice greatly curtailed by the cancellation of some the most distinguished conductors. Riccardo Chailly's coronary ailment forced him to cancel his two concerts and effectively put him out of the running for the empty music directorship. Andris Nelsons rather strangely decided to go on paternal leave barely more than a month before his scheduled concert. Ill-health made it necessary for Kurt Masur, one of the great interpreters of the Missa Solemnis, to back out of his engagement while already in rehearsal. It was, to say the least, reassuring to find Esa-Pekka Salonen appearing  as scheduled with violinist Leila Josefowicz in an advanced stage of expectancy, much to the delight of her many fans in the audience.
Opera

Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina Revisits the Met after 13 Years

Even if the performance had not been as great as it was, we both, as newcomers to Khovanshchina, would have left the Met in a state of uncritical awe. Mussorgsky's historical tragedy, although the composer left it unorchestrated and unfinished at his early death, leaving a great deal of work for others, including Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich in their separate efforts, has all the potency the greatest music and the most powerful human drama can lend it—all within a setting of the grandest spectacle. As the Met presented it earlier this month, its four and a half hours sped by, as we followed the hopeless and ultimately disastrous adventures of key players of various factions in the unstable years of Peter the Great’s minority. Even Mussorgsky's finished opera, his acknowledged masterpiece, Boris Godunov, does not leave us with such an overwhelmingly cathartic effect as the inexorable succession of assassinations, executions, and suicides with which Khovanshchina concludes. Mussorgsky, who wrote the libretto as well as the music, seems to have captured the tragic essence of history in it. There was a specific reason why the final effect of the Met performance was so moving, but to explain it, a little background is in order.
Music

San Francisco Symphony: Arabella Steinbacher plays the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; Charles Dutoit conducts Stravinsky and Bartók.

Her view of the Tchaikovsky was a fraction slower than the usual ones built around the big tuttis—but all the better for the subtlety this permitted. There were literally moments when the orchestra, playing as quietly as it knew how, could not match her for delicacy. One of the mesmerizing features of Arabella Steinbacher's stage presence was the way she swayed to the orchestra—leaning slowly to one side for several bars, then slowly back the other way for an equal number of bars—a mesmerizing dance to the orchestra's basic pulse. It kept all eyes on her. Indeed, the absence of any sudden movements was the captivating feature of her presence. Just to lower her head and look down could be measured in the bar lines and pulse of the music. This special elegance has already been noted elsewhere in her career and and compared to the special dignity of Grace Kelly. I must say I concur. There are worse characterizations than for a violinist to be known as "Her Serene Highness."
Music

Musical Life in San Francisco: Yuja Wang, Michael Tilson Thomas, and the SF Symphony play Poulenc, Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, Ravel, and Stravinsky

Michael Tilson Thomas may sometimes over-program his orchestra and over-instruct his audiences, as locals will attest, but a cooperative sunset, a dazzling young Chinese soloist in a red dress, and a frothy line-up of arch and knowing pieces helped transform last Thursday evening's SF Symphony concert into something of a summer gala.

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