Sunday, March 13, 2011

New York Philharmonic – Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Marino Formenti, piano. March 11, 2011.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 1 (Seat T7, $65).

Symphony No. 6 in D major, Le Matin (The Morning), Hob. I:6 (1761) by Haydn (1732-1809).
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1985-86/88) by Ligeti (1923-2006).
Concerto for Orchestra, BB 123, Sz 116 (1943) by Bartok (1881-1945).

I learned a few things in this concert, part of the “Hungarian Echoes: A Philharmonic Festival” series conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. First, Haydn was born in an Austrian city very close to Hungry, he didn’t have formal training in music (perhaps very few people had then), and that he composed a series of three symphonies while he was at his employer’s summer residence in Hungary. One of the objectives for Haydn for these “times of day” symphonies was to have passages to highlight the skills of the musicians, this to get on the good side of his new colleagues.

The orchestra is quite small, and Michelle Kim was the concertmaster for this work. She had quite a few virtuoso passages which she did quite well. Our seat (Row T, left side) was very good, and I could hear the parts very distinctly. Other instruments also got themselves showcased in this 20 or so minute work. The four movements are (i) Adagio – Allegro; (ii) Adagio – Andante – Adagio; (iii) Menuet e Trio; and (iv) Finale: Allegro. All in all a delightful piece.

For the Ligeti piece, the originally scheduled pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard had to withdraw because of illness, substituting for him was the Italian pianist-conductor Marino Formenti. In the Instrumentation section of the notes we see interesting items such as doubling alto ocarina, roto-toms, guiro, flexatone, crotales, and others. I counted over 35 different instruments in that list, and yet there were fewer than 20 musicians, including the conductor, the soloist, and the page turner. Indeed there was only one string player for each voice. Go figure.

Brandenburg concerto this is not. There was a lot of banging on the piano, and the orchestra’s parts aren’t simple either. Ligeti at first had only three movements for this work: Vivace molto ritmico e preciso; Lento e deserto; and Vivace cantabile. After listening to it, he decided it needed more work and added Allegro risoluto, molto ritmicao; and Presto luminoso. Well, perhaps it needed more work in other aspects also.

I actually thought this was the first Ligeti piece I ever heard, but upon checking my prior blogs, found out it wasn’t. I suspect I will forget about this performance also.

Both Dicterow and Maples returned for the second half of the program where we find a full orchestra seated for Bartok’s work. Evidently they wanted to give Kim her time under the spotlight. Whatever you say about the New York Philharmonic, it certainly has a great depth of players, many would qualify as leader in any major orchestra.

I heard the Concerto for Orchestra a few years ago and – despite my general fondness for Bartok’s music – didn’t appreciate it very much. My experience is quite different this time. I am quite sure it is the same program notes, but I found the music to follow the description quite well. There are three solemn movements(Introduction: Andante non troppo – Allegro vivace; Elegy: Andante non troppo and Finale: Pesante – Presto) with two interleaving lighter ones (Game of Couples – Allegro scherzando and Interrupted Intermezzo: Allegretto). The Intermezzo contains a reference to Shostokovich’s Seventh Symphony. Evidently Bartok disliked Shostokovich; why parodying his music would be an affront, I don’t understand.

The sad story surrounding this composition was that it was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzy, at that time the conductor of the Boston Symphony. Bartok was quite ill with what was eventually diagnosed as leukemia, and this was a way his Hungarian friends went about supporting him. Ironically Koussevitzy wasn’t particularly fond of Bartok’s music until this work. Bartok passed away a couple of years later.

Given tonight’s experience, I am tempted to see if I can go to the other two concerts in this series. It is quite unlikely with Anne’s and my schedule the next couple of weeks, though. I wrote this review a day after I heard the concert, and – alas – already forgot a lot about what I wanted to say. To be fair, there is an opera of more than four hours' length in between.

After lunch at China Fun, Anne and I drove up the Hudson to see if we could find any bald eagles. We saw quite a few of them a couple of winters back. Traffic was horrific due to flooding caused by recent heavy rains. We couldn’t drive up the Saw Mill River Parkway, and the area around Elmsford was cordoned off because of rising waters. We ended up having to skip all the places we wanted to visit except for where we were at the last outing: a parking lot across the river from Bear Mountain. No bald eagles, though; the extra 120 miles of driving for nothing.

Back to the review. The New York Times review is very positive. The reviewer goes to great lengths to describe Ligeti’s concerto.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy the Ligeti concerto. I found it to be an engaging and exciting work. The opening movement crackles with energy and the different rhythmic patterns that build up among the different instruments are positively toe-tapping (except that it's like having eleven toes). Did you notice the duet in the second movement in which the bassoon plays higher than the piccolo? I hope you have a chance to reconsider this work at some point. Glad you are going to the Philharmonic and blogging about it. The more the merrier!