Thursday, August 05, 2010

Mostly Mozart Festival Orhcestra - Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor; Gil Shaham, violin. August 4, 2010.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, First Tier (Seat 10Box2, $30).

Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in E-flat major (1937-38) by Stravinsky (1882-1971).
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K.219 (Turkish) (1775) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op 36 (1801-02) by Beethoven (1770-1827).

These half-price tickets were bought from Goldstar, with an additional $6.50 service fee per ticket. We were seated in the front section of the First Tier Box and had a good view of the stage which was moved forward into the front regular seating area. The concert was reasonably well attended.

The Stravinsky concerto was written for 15 instruments (10 strings, 2 horns, flute, and clarinet). It was written to commemorate the 30th wedding of a Washington DC couple. The three movements are Tempo giusto, Allegretto, and Con Motto. This was at least our third time listening to the piece, and this also was the first time that I came close (but not quite) to enjoying it. The music is interesting enough, but I kept asking "what is the point"? The flutist, a young Korean woman, did quite well and was recognized by the conductor at the end.

Mozart wrote all his five violin concertos within the span of less than a year, when he was 19. It is known as the "Turkish" probably for the passage in the final movement, although the program notes say there are other Turkish references also. The three movements are (i) Allegro aperto, (ii) Adagio, and (iii) Rondo: Tempo di Minuetto.

Gil Shaham tackled with ease the piece, playing on his 1699 "Countess Polignac" Strad. The concerto in general is quite easy to play, and Shaham did it crisply. The Joachim cadenzas are a bit more challenging, but they are relatively short. The interplay between the soloist and the orchestra was excellent. Since we had a good view of the stage, we could see Shaham's intensity, which bordered on obsession at times, very clearly.

He played an encore "not written by Mozart" which showcased (repeatedly, thus unfortunate in my judgment) some of the more demanding violin techniques. We could see that the music was hand-written. Perhaps he made it up (as opposed to "composed") the piece himself?

I am somewhat familiar with Beethoven's second symphony, whose four movements are (i) Adagio - Allegro con brio, (ii) Larghetto, (iii) Scherzo: Allegro, and (iv) Allegro molto. This was written when Beethoven, at 32, was somewhat young as a composer. The word "Mozartean" was used often in the program notes to describe this work, and I agree. On the other hand, this work also supposedly anticipates a lot of Beethoven's later compositions, including the opera Fidelio and his later symphonies. I honestly couldn't tell, but then I don't study these things in depth. I am sure Beethoven didn't write this with all his future works in mind, he must have discovered he had stumbled into some interesting new composition techniques. The orchestra's performance was delightful.

Because of traffic, we took the train in, and the Shaham encore put our return schedule in jeopardy. We left right after the Symphony and managed to catch the 10:18 train back. NJ Transit has raised ticket prices and no longer offers off-peak tickets, roundtrip tickets now cost $24.50, nearly making it worthwhile economically for two to drive into the city. Not sure that's a good thing.

The MM Orchestra is quite small at about 40 people and only 32 or 33 were used in Mozart (strings, horns, and clarinets). It sounded quite good. The conductor, a young Spaniard, conducted without a baton, and did the Beethoven from memory. He was quite effective in bringing out the dynamics of the compositions; however, one didn't come away impressed with how he molded the music.

We enjoyed the concert. As of today there is no New York Times review of the concert yet.

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