Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New York Philharmonic - David Robertson, conudctor; Leonidas Kavakos, violin. October 25, 2008.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 2 (Seat E4, $54)

Symphony No. 34 in C major, K. 338 (1780) by Mozart (1756-91).
Violin Concerto No. 2 BB117 (1937-38) by Bartok (1881-1945).
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 (1882-83) by Brahms (1833-97).

We exchanged another concert for this one due to scheduling conflict, and then realized (i) we would be coming back to NYC after yesterday's concert by the National Chorale, and (ii) Kavakos would be playing another relatively modern piece. Anyhow, here we are.

People (well, the New York Times anyway) keep saying how great a programmer Robertson is. Tonight's concert comprised of a piece each from the 18th, 19th and 20th century, so at least we get to listen to music from vastly different periods.

Robertson conducted the Mozart Symphony with great gusto; a bit much for my taste. And I kept asking, how could he possibly make it more exciting for the Bartok and Beethoven pieces. Turns out he couldn't, which isn't necessarily an indictment on how the latter pieces were performed. In any case, I am not familiar with this particular symphony, and it was quite enjoyable. It came in the standard three movements of Allegro vivace; Andante di molto (piu tosto Allegretto); and Finale - Allegro vivace. There is a remark in the Program Notes about how interesting the tempo marking for the second movement was, which I am sure only an annotator would find interesting.

A couple of observations. A reduced orchestra was used for this symphony, and all the first violin players were women. Mozart was known for his love of the viola and supposedly wrote nice double parts for the instrument (in the slow movement). We were up front, on the right side of the audience, and had a good view of the viola section. Still I had to strain to hear the part(s).

I last heard Kavakos play (in 2005) the Violin Concerto by Henri Dutilleux, and had some choice words for the music and the performance. Today's performance was better, or I should say not as bad. I usually enjoy Bartok and violin music. However, this concerto seemed to wander all over the place, I couldn't figure out what Bartok was trying to say, except to demonstrate the ability of the violinist. We were seated at the front, and had a good view of the performer. The sound of his Stradivarius was great, especially in the higher registers (surprisingly weak on the low notes), and Kavakos' technique is impeccable. Unfortunately, when the performance ended I could say only "Oh, it's over." A couple of additional remarks: this time he played the piece from memory, which is quite remarkable; and the pounding the violin took was simply brutal, it had to be retuned after the first movement.

The concerto's three movements are: Allegro non troppo, Andante tranquillo, and Allegro molto, although I am not sure why Bartok bothered with the markings. Also, notice there is no key to the music. There are supposedly quarter tones towards the end of the first movement; I caught the passage (it was written in the program) but not sure I could distinguish a quarter tone from a half tone. Bartok had written an earlier violin concerto but never published it. So there is debate how tonight's concerto should be numbered; again, great fodder for an annotator.

As with the other two pieces, I am not familiar with the third Brahms Symphony. The movements are Allegro con brio; Andante; Poco allegretto; and Allegro - Un poco sostenuto. It is relatively short, and sounded very much like Beethoven. The Program Notes contain enthusiastic words penned by Clara Schumann. I wish I can find the same excitement.

All in all, tonight's was a program that looks interesting on the surface but falls flat in the actual execution. See the New York Times review. They are surprised that the audience wasn't as enthusiastic either.

The National Chorale - Martin Josman, Music Director. October 24, 2008.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Third Tier Left (Seat BB108, $56).

Micele Capalbo, Soprano; Janara Kellerman, Alto; Daniel Weeks, Tenor; Grant Youngblood, Bass
Schicksalslied (1871) by Johannes Brahms.
Singet dem Herrn (1746) by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (1824) by Ludwig van Beethoven.

We bought a 3-concert series to the National Chorale performances at the suggestion of our friend Chung Shu. Tonight's was the first. Joining Anne & me were Chung Shu, Shirley, and Pastor Al. Before the concert we spent a few hours at MoMA (with the special van Gogh exhibit)and had dinner at MEE. Anne didn't go to MoMA but joined us for dinner.

We have noticed the same National Chorale poster outside Avery Fisher Hall year after year, but never got around to going to any of the concerts. In addition to tonight's, we will be going to the Messiah and Carmina Burana concerts later in the season.

Overall this was a disappointment. It was more form than substance, starting with the colorful dresses worn by the women members of the chorale. And the adjustments they had to make in where they stand was another example of show over substance. The orchestra was small (especially for the Symphony), so was the chorale at about 50 members. Perhaps that's because of budget constraints? It begs the question of why do we need this chorale when other organizations (e.g., NY Philharmonic and Choral Artists) and capable of putting out perfectly adequate performances.

Tonight was the "Opening Gala" and, alas, the concert hall was only about half full. The director looks quite a bit older than the picture in the posters would indicate, and could have put a little more energy in the conducting.

Let's hope future performances are better. I am a bit leary of the Messiah one as it is so familiar.