Avery Fisher Hall at
Le tombeau de Couperin (1914-17/1919) by Ravel (1875-1937).
Piano Concerto (2006-07 ; World Premiere) by Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958).
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874, arr. By Ravel 1922) by Musorgsky (1839-81).
Salonen has been the music director of LA Philharmonic for a long time, and I saw him quite a bit when I lived in the LA area in 2001/2002. I actually had a subscription to the 2002/2003 season, but had to give those tickets away because I came back to the East Coast. He burst onto the music scene many years ago and is considered on of the top (still) young conductors.
The first piece by Ravel was supposed to be a tribute to Ravel’s friends who died during World War I, with each of the movements (Prelude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon) all dedicated to different people. In general, however, the music was lively and one would never think of it as an elegy. Perhaps it was how Ravel remembered his friends? In any case, there was no percussion at all, which is unusual for a contemporary symphonic piece. Salonen tends to anticipate the orchestra when he conducts. I always wonder how they maintain precision. For tonight at least I concluded they could not.
This series was the premiere performance of Salonen’s piano concerto, which is dedicated to the soloist Yefim Bronfman. What does one say about the concerto? The program notes contain a very detailed “roadmap” by Salonen on how he constructed the three different movements (simply called I, II and III) of the concerto. One could follow the roadmap to a tee and know exactly where the music is. There are enough interesting constructions that would keep the listener focused, but at the end you are not quite sure what you have heard. Somewhat like looking at a well-executed piece of modern artwork but not understanding whether the artist was trying to get across her emotion or was illustrating a new technique. One can even call this a sonata between the piano and the orchestra, if such a construct exists; even though the piano part contains many virtuoso passages, it often alternates the supporting role with the orchestra. You walk away agreeing Salonen is a great technician, but not sure whether he is an artist.
One of Salonen’s teachers at the
I thoroughly enjoyed the Musorgsky piece. The performance was done with a fresh perspective from the get-go. The slight accent of each of the first notes conjures up a long corridor. The texture of the piece was so rich that you wonder how the piano, wonderful and complete an instrument as it is, can bring out the images the orchestra does. The performance was so enjoyable that one can easily overlook the errant entry here or there.
Musorgsky wrote this music in memory of his artist friend Victor Hartmann (1834-73). The composition was inspired by various drawings, watercolors, sketches and architectural plans: ballet of the unhatched chicks, Tuileries;
See also the New York Times review of an earlier performance.