[Note added on 8/31: Here is the NY Times review of the concert. The reviewer is "intrigued" by Hoyt's analysis.]
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat T105, $53.50.)
The Creation (1796-98) by Haydn (1732-1809).
Sarah Tynan, soprano; Thomas Cooley, tenor; John Relyea, bass.
Concert Chorale of New York, James Bagwell, director.
Given our being away so much so far this summer, that we were able to attend the sixth (if the opera “Written on Skin” is included) concert of the 49th Mostly Mozart Festival was quite a feat. Perhaps because this was also the conclusion of the Festival, there was this intangible excitement and buzz in the air that I thought was quite fitting. I continue to admire the ability of this group of musicians to put forward a large number of programs in a few short weeks, and many of the pieces are technically quite challenging.
The oratorio is divided into three parts that follow an orchestral introduction called “The Representation of Chaos” describing the progression from the inchoate cosmos to the first appearance of light. Part I describes the first four days where the heavens, the earth, and the plants were created. Part II depicts the fifth and sixth days, in which sentient life (including animals and, of course, humans) was created. In Part III Adam and Eve surveyed the creation and joined with the angels in praising the Creator.
The libretto, likely originally prepared for Handel, was about 50 years old when it was handed to Haydn during his second visit to England; it was amended by Gottfried van Swieten, who also prepared a German translation that preserved the prosody of the original
The male soloists were substitutes for the originally programmed Andrew Staples (tenor) and Brindley Sherratt (bass.) Since I do not know either of them, I don’t know if it was an “upgrade” or a “downgrade.” We have seen Relyea several times before in operas. In Parts I and II the voices represented angels: Raphael – bass, Uriel – tenor, and Gabriel – soprano. The bass and the soprano became Adam and Eve in Part III; Uriel had a couple of recitatives. A member of the chorale (Erin Kemp, alto) was added to form a quartet at the end.
Our seats were reasonably close to the stage, so all the sounds came across quite well. It didn’t start all that auspiciously, as the orchestra was a bit uneven (e.g., the upbow notes in the violins.) That might have been an intentional way to depict chaos, although I doubt Haydn would have constructed his music that way. The orchestra eventually settled down, and put in a good performance. There were quite a few passage where only a few instruments (flute, clarinet, etc.) were used to accompany the singer, and those were pleasantly executed. The continuo of cello and fortepiano also had some great moments.
The singers did a marvelous job, projecting their voices well. They didn’t need to show a huge range of emotions as the mood of the entire oratorio is positive (we never got to Satan tempting Eve with an “apple”.) I don’t know how much warning they had about the need for substitutes, but other than the occasional glance at the scores, there was little indication that these gentlemen were last-minute stand-ins (perhaps they weren’t.) I did feel the tenor’s voice showed some strain towards the end; let’s hope he recovers for the second performance.
The Chorale sang the part of angels, and sang well. The only issue I would haggle over is perhaps better diction. We saw the same group last year, and they also had men and women in “mixed” formation; it was even more pronounced today.
The annotator (Peter Hoyt) for this program put in a succinct and clear Snapshot, but was exasperating in his main commentary. I was close to sneering when he started to argue the music was part of the Enlightenment movement as it puts reason in a prominent position, and really shook my head when he then describes this as a likely “Counter-Enlightenment” composition that advocates the proper use of reason (to praise God.) What’s wrong with taking words written by someone and setting it to great music? Do we need to decipher if Haydn had a deeper message to convey, especially since we don’t/won’t know what that message is? And is it necessary to use such big words as “inchoate” and “prosody?” (Words I stole earlier.)
I couldn’t find a review of the performance (too early,) but did see a glowing review of a performance in the 2009 Festival. They wore white jackets then!
[Note added on 8/31: Here is the NY Times review of the concert. The reviewer is "intrigued" by Hoyt's analysis.]
Anne and I both recall having heard The Creation in New Haven some years before, during the years we visited our daughter quite often while she was a student. She graduated in 2005, and I couldn’t find any reference to the performance in this blog that started in April of that year – so it was at least ten years ago that we heard it. We aren’t sure whether it was at the Yale auditorium or some other venue. Of course I don’t remember much about that performance, but I do remember thinking that it was a complex composition at that time. Not so today.
Sunday, August 16, 2015
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat O10, $40.)
Pre-Concert Recital: Jon Manasse, clarinet; Ilya Finkelshteyn, cello; Jon Nakamatsu, piano.
Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op. 114 (1891) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K.543 (1788) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1804-07) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
This was our third concert in three days, and I felt surprisingly eager for it. Anticipating traffic congestion along the way, we left a bit after 4 pm on this Friday afternoon. And traffic was bad. With traffic reports saying both the Lincoln Tunnel and the Westside Highway were congested, we took a detour via GW Bridge, going an extra 12 miles. It actually worked, the trip took about 1:30 hours. We had dinner at Amber. It had moved to a much smaller place across the street from where it used to be.
Jon Manasse used to be the principal clarinet for the Metropolitan Opera. Ilya Finkelshteyn is the principal cello of Cincinnati Symphony. They both belong to the MM Festival Orchestra. Nakamatsu was a Gold Medalist at the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition, which is no small feat.
Brahms had declared his retirement in 1890, but jumped back into music writing. Even thought this was the first time I heard the piece, I enjoyed it. As with much of Brahms’ chamber music work, this was on the introspective side, with elegant phrases and much give-and-take among the instruments. I am sure with additional listenings and analysis I will enjoy the composition even more. The four movements are Allegro, Adagio, Andante grazioso, and Allegro.
The main program is a bit on the short side, with each piece lasting about 30 minutes. Mozart’s 39th is in the group of three he wrote in quick succession in 1788. We heard the 40th a few days earlier, conducted by Louis Langree This one certain is very different in character, much more playful after its solemn start. It was a good performance, with the orchestra delivering crisp and energetic lines. The movements are Adagio - Allegretto, Andante con moto, Menuetto: Allegro, and Finale: Allegro.
Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto is characterized very much by the great contrasts, with some commentators attributing it to his struggles with going deaf. The cadenzas looked and sounded virtuosic. This was the first time we saw Lar Vogt, a German pianist in his 40s. He certainly proved my point that one could do great music without putting one’s nose close to the keyboard, as this was a very enjoyable performance – my only complaint is sometimes things sounded a bit muddled with too much pedaling. Vogt looked serious during the light movements, and downright pained when the music got intense, and it got intense quite often. After some enthusiastic applause, he (and the orchestra) played a slow movement from one of Mozart’s concertos. The movements are Allegro moderato, Andante con moto, and Rondo: vivace.
The bio on Macelaru in the Playbill is certainly impressive, if “Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award” and “Philadelphia Orchestra Subscription” mean anything. A check of the web indicates that Romanian-born Macelaru is in his mid-30s. I wonder if he will break through as one of the leading conductors for his generation soon.
The New YorkTimes review characterized Vogt’s playing as “muscular,” and the reviewer heaped considerable praise on him, especially in his late evening performance of several piano sonatas (which we didn’t attend.) Her assessment of the symphony performance was less than “hefty.”
Friday, August 14, 2015
David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Four Tier (Seat H107, $66.)
Story. Agnes is married to Protector, who considers her his property. Protector asks the Boy to make an illustrated book about the family (hence the title, since books were written on parchment then.) Boy then begins an affair with Agnes. When Protector finds out, he kills Boy and feeds his heart to Agnes. Agnes commits suicide before the protector can kill her.
Conductor – Alan Gilbert. The Protector – Christopher Purves, Agnes – Barbara Hannigan, Angel 1/Boy – Tim Mead, Angel 2/Marie – Victoria Simmonds, Angel 3/John – Robert Murray.
For reasons that are tenuous at best, this opera is part of the current Mostly Mozart Festival season. It is presented in collaboration with the New York Philharmonic as part of the Lincoln Center-New York Philharmonic Opera Initiative, per the Playbill. Perhaps there is a financial angle to it that I am not aware of.
Anne and I debated till the last minute if we wanted to see this opera, since that would mean driving into the city on three consecutive days. At about 2 pm in the afternoon I went to the MM website to buy the tickets, and discovered that only fourth tier seats were available. It turns out there were quite a few empty seats in that level, so there was massive movement of people from the lower-priced seats to our neighborhood.
MM sent quite a few emails to promote this opera, so I couldn’t help but see the praise heaped onto the opera, such as Washington Post’s “the cultural event of the NY summer season.” Well, I would call it “a cultural event,” since I assume not too many operas, especially modern ones, are being programmed in NYC during the summer months. And, to be fair, there are some interesting aspects to this event.
First a few words about the staging. The stage is divided into two levels. For two of the three parts the the upper left level is a modern studio, upper right level depicts the woods, lower left is the wardrobe for the opera (modern), lower center is the main stage (bedroom, dining room, etc.) and lower right is the garden. Not much happens in the upper and lower right portions of the stage. Things are usually in slow motion in the upper and lower left portions. For Part 3 a brightly lit staircase is on the right. Not much (if any) changes between parts, so only a small pause is needed. Sometimes people dressed in black will move the props around.
Curtain call. Stage used in Part 3 of the opera.
All this makes for an interesting spectacle, although after a while things get a bit “old.”
The “modern” aspect of the opera is not limited to the staging and costume. Some of the dialog refers to shopping malls and eight-lane highways. It sounds funny, but I am not sure that’s the intended effect here.
The music is definitely different. Of all the modern(ish) operas I have seen, the closest this comes to is that of Philip Glass’s. Not as minimalist, but certainly the dramatic elements come and go incrementally, not suddenly (unlike Beethoven, for instance.) As to the music itself, to me it is more like spoken dialog in a play, done with rising and lowering pitch. When the characters sang, they often referred to themselves in the third person while narrating the action. For example, you would have Protector singing “now the Protector is trying to put on his shoes.” (This phrase did not actually appear in the opera.) As our seats are quite far from the stage, this technique – perhaps unwittingly – helped.
The word “chamber” in the name of the orchestra is a misnomer, because the orchestra is huge. From the fourth tier we didn’t have a full view of the pit, but I could clearly see two rows of woodwind and brass players, and counted at least 24 of them. However, the roster shows eight first violins and six second violins, on par with the MM Festival Orchestra. It draws members from all over the world; for instance, only two of the fourteen listed violin players are from the US.
The sound from the orchestra was good. Unfortunately, I used most of my bandwidth to try to follow the story and the action on stage, and thus couldn’t concentrate on the orchestra music. The vocal singing was also good, no doubt helped by the sound system of the theater. There was enough drama in the lines to keep the audience’s attention. Countertenor Tim Mead sang the role of Boy, and this is one of the few instances I thought the voice worked very well.
For the last several weeks Anne and I spent a lot of time helping out with baby H, including some “night shifts” for me while the mother tried to get some rest. When H fussed, I would pick him up and make up songs to try to calm them down; the music in this opera reminded me of that. H’s older sister M is 2 ½ years old and talks incessantly, oftentimes offering a running commentary on what she is doing. Not quite grasping the concept between her name “M” and the first person “I”, she would say something “M is now feeding the rabbit some soup.” A lot of the dialog in the opera is of this nature. Anne chuckled when I told her about these parallels.
The New YorkTimes review is positive, and contains additional information about the composition, George Benjamin and the librettist Martin Crimp. The Washington Post review isn’t as sanguine; while the reviewer is generally positive with this opera, she also laments how low the expectations are when it comes to contemporary operas.
We couldn't see Gilbert from where we sat, but I assume he enjoyed himself given how well the orchestra sounded. Benjamin also came out at curtain call.
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor; Matthias Goerne, baritone. August 12, 2015.
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat E15, $40.)
Pre-Concert Recital: Charlie Albright, piano.
Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”) (1801) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
Four Etudes, Op. 25 (1835-37) by Chopin (1810-1849).
Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183 (1773) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Ich habe genug, Cantata WV 82 (1727) by Bach (1685-1750).
Three Songs (1815-1826) by Schubert (1797-1828).
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 (1788) by Mozart.
We left the Boston area at around 1 pm after lunch with Joe and Jess (and baby H), and managed to get to New York a little bit after 5 pm. There was ample parking on Columbus Avenue; we had dinner at Legend on 72nd before going down to Avery Fisher Hall to collect our tickets, and early enough to attend the pre-concert recital. All that was achieved by having multiple GPS systems running (the one in the car, Waze, and Anne using Google maps) and making multiple adjustments to the route along the way.
When Charlie Albright walked out, he looked familiar. I realized that we heard him before, with BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart. He played Ravel’s Concerto in G, which I thought was okay, attributing some of the problems to the acoustics at our seat. Meanwhile, he added an Avery Fisher career grant to his biography.
The Moonlight sonata must be one of the most well-known pieces in the piano repertoire, and as such the listener probably has some expectations of how it should be played. That was certainly true in my case, and Albright broke many of those conventions. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t played well; indeed I enjoyed it a lot, although I thought some passages could be taken at a slightly faster pace. The movements are Adagio sostenuto, Allegretto, and Presto agitato.
Chopin’s etudes are also in the standard recital repertoire. The ones listed in the program are No. 1 in A-flat major (“Aeolian Harp”), No. 7 in C-sharp minor, No. 11 in A minor (“Winter Wind”), and No. 12 in C minor (“Ocean”). The Program Notes has a story assigned to each of the pieces. Before he started playing, Albright announced that to put some Mozart in Mostly Mozart, he was substituting one of the etudes with someone’s adaptation of Rondo alla Turca (didn’t get either the switched out etude - probably No. 11 - or the adaptor’s name.) Chopin’s etudes were difficult enough, the Rondo just made my jaw drop. He had a lot of fun playing it, and the audience showed their appreciation with very enthusiastic applause afterwards. I was impressed, my only misgiving was he didn’t need the oftentimes exaggerated body movements – his music playing spoke loud and clear.
During the break between the recital and the main concert, Anne saw him wandering around the Green Room on the second floor by himself. A little unexpected, given how many fans he seems to have (many of them wrote on his Facebook page in Korean.) She got an autograph from him, only after providing him with a pen; he didn’t have any on him.
Both of Mozart’s symphonies written in the minor key were on the program tonight. The two were written 15 years apart, with No. 25 written when the composer was 17 years old. Yet the two bear quite a bit of similarity, one of the most noticeable being the use of syncopation. The other would be how sunny both sounded even though they were in minor keys. The orchestra did a good job (it’s MM Festival Orchestra, after all.) Our seats were in the fourth row, on the far left, so if we strained to our right we had a good view of Langree conducting. He conducted with so much energy that I wonder how he looked doing Beethoven. The movements of Symphony No. 25 are Allegro con brio, Andante, Menuetto and Trio, and Allegro. Those of No. 40 are Molto allegro, Andante, Menuetto: Allegretto, and Allegro assai.
Sandwiched between the two symphonies were the Bach cantata and three songs by Schubert. I knew of Ich habe genug (it is enough) from one of the Bach Festivals I went to in Bethlehem, PA, but didn’t know it was based on what Simeon said when he saw baby Jesus (Luke 2:22-32: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation …). A reduced sized orchestra was used, e.g., there were five first violins instead of the usual eight. The 20 minute cantata consists of (i) aria (Ich habe genug); (ii) recitative; (iii) aria (Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen); (iv) recitative (Mein Gott! Wenn kommt das schone: Nun!) and (v) aria (Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod.) It was composed in 1727 for the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
We have heard the baritone Matthias Goerne before, although I didn’t remember what he looked like (never sat this close before.) He has a beautiful and sweet voice which I thought worked very well with this cantata, except for the low notes which didn’t come across too well. Being in the fourth row, I could hear him very well, but wondered what he would sound like to those sitting further back.
To my relief, when he came back from intermission, Goerne raised his overall volume for the Schubert lieders against a full orchestra. I really appreciated how he conveyed the sentiments expressed in the lyrics, as if he was reading a poem: melancholic, funny, wistful, puzzled, macabre, and unexpected.
The first song “An Silvia” was based on Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and is basically a tribute to a woman. “Alinde,” written by Johann Friedrich Rochlitz, describes a long search for Alinda, who eventually appeared by the seeker’s side. “Erlkonig” was written by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, it describes how a father tries to keep his son calm as he rides through the forest, pursued by Erlking, only to find the boy dead when he gets home. Schubert wrote the pieces for voice and piano, the scores for tonight were orchestrated by Alexander Schmalcz (born 1969, An Silvia and Alinde) and Max Reger (1873-1916, Erlkonig.) I enjoyed the orchestra music, they added a lot of "mood" to the songs.
Either the performance level has improved, or after three performances I finally found myself in a festive mood: I quite enjoyed the evening. We bought some food from a street vendor and a couple of small cakes from Magnolia before we went home.
The New York Times review is positive. The reviewer enjoyed both symphonies, and noted that there was a lot of Mozart in this program. He thought Randall Ellis did an excellent job playing the oboe in the Bach cantata, I thought he was a bit weak. The reviewer also identified the Rondo was adapted by Arcadi Volodo.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Cornelius Meister, conductor; Sol Gabetta, cello. August 5, 2015.
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat T12, $40.)
Overture to Le nozze di Figaro (1786) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Cello Concerto in C major (c. 1761-65) by Haydn (1732-1809).
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60 (1806) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
This is the second of the five MM concerts we will be attending this summer. I am writing this a week later, so I only remember a few things about the concert. (That’s the reason why I blog, just having written something about an event makes it stay in my memory for a long time.)
The short but delightful overture is what summer music festivals are about, as least for me. One could sit there and simply enjoy the music; and if one is in the mood, there is a lot to learn about this particular overture, and how Mozart made it interesting (e.g., by using a 7-measure theme.)
Haydn’s cello concerto was discovered about two centuries after its composition, in a Prague museum, and was heard for the first time in May 1962. I have some level of familiarity with Haydn’s music (mostly his string quartets,) and wouldn’t have guessed this was written by him. I wonder if musicologists did a “number” on the discovered parts, because the piece – particularly the cadenza - looked much more difficult than I thought Haydn would write. The 25 or so minute long program has three movements: Moderato, Adagio, and Finale: Allegro molto.
It was delightfully performed. I saw Gabetta in Hong Kong several years ago playing Dvorak’s concerto (my memory probably was helped by having written about that concert,) and thought she did an overall good job. Tonight she was great, even though the cello came across a bit weak.
She played an encore that was modern sounding, and at some point sang some notes as part of the music. I went back to my 2011 blog entry and noticed that she did the same thing (this I didn’t remember!) My remarks were not the kindest (“keep her day job.”) Tonight her voice sounded much better. Of course I am not sure it’s the same piece of music.
The program concluded with Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. Anne and I are sure we have heard this before, but neither of us thought it sounded any familiar. Did the orchestra butcher the performance, or are we so forgetful? The four movements are Adagio – Allegro vivace, Adagio, Allegro vivace, and Allegro ma non troppo.
As I was watching the musicians at work, it suddenly occurred to me my prior thought that the concertmaster was too energetic compared to the rest of the section might have the problem pinned on the wrong party: perhaps the rest of the section (and may be the entire orchestra) could use some of the enthusiasm he shows at these concerts.
Cornelius Meister looks very young, and he was dressed to the nines for this debut event. I enjoyed how he led the concert.
I was surprised to find a New York Times review on this concert. The reviewer raved about multiple aspects, heaping considerable praise on Gabetta and Meister. He also named the encore piece (Dolcissimo movement by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks) which was written partly at Gabetta’s request. The reviewer also said “she is, no question, a better cellist than a vocalist.”
This morning (day of concert, not of writing) we drove back to New Jersey from the Poconos after spending a couple of days with Ellie and family. Tomorrow (day of writing) we will drive down to New York from Boston to attend our third MM concert.
Sunday, August 02, 2015
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat V16, $40).
Pre-Concert Recital – Orion Weiss, Piano.
Klavierstucke, Op. 118 (1893) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Chaconne in D minor for piano left hand (1720/1877) by Bach (1685-1750) (trans.Brahms).
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K.466 (1785) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Symphony No. 4 in E minor (1884-85) by Brahms.
Today’s program is more properly titled “Mostly Brahms.” The entire program, including the pre-concert, lasted about 110 minutes. Brahms was involved with every single work, while Mozart’s own contribution was less than 30 minutes. In case one’s is wondering, the first movement cadenza in the Mozart concerto was by Brahms. The annotator (Paul Schiavo) pointed out other rationale for how the program hangs together, such as the frequent use of minor keys, or how the pieces progress from one for a solo piano to piano/orchestra and finally for a full orchestra.
We heard the Chaconne piece played by Leon Fleisher in Toronto a few years back. If I were to go back to my notes, I probably would have said something like “transcriptions from one instrument to another usually doesn’t usually work well as different instruments have different characteristics.” Going back to my notes, I said “… it didn’t sound as good or natural compared to being played on a violin.” If I were to make a comparison, I thought it worked much better today as the different lines were very well delineated. Of course the percussive nature of the piano made some passages sound a bit disjoint. It was overall quite enjoyable.
Of the many concertos Mozart wrote (close to thirty) only two are in the minor key. Of course one can make the minor key sound sunny, and there are quite a few passages in this concerto that sounded that way. Overall, though, it is more on the moody side, beginning with the orchestral statement at the start.
This orchestra introduction is my first encounter with the MMFO this season. I went in with a rooting for them attitude, but was frankly disappointed. Tentative, imprecise, uninspired were some of the adjectives that came to mind. During the early moments when the pianist was having an ongoing dialog with the orchestra, I actually felt bad for the pianist as he tried to take the performance to a higher level.
The good news is that eventually he did. Denk put in a well-structured and dynamic presentation. Aided by the Program Notes, I rode along the ups and downs expressed by the composer and eventually let the music carry me along.
Denk played an encore that I would have guessed Bach as the lines were clear and the harmony traditional, except for the many rubatos. Anne overheard someone saying it might have been composed by Faure. Let’s just say one of us is very off. In any case, I like Denk’s playing. The Playbill writeup on him said he had performed with the New York Philharmonic before, but this was the first time I heard/heard of him.
I am quite familiar with the Brahms symphony, so have in my mind a “proper” way to deliver it. Tonight I needed to make quite a bit of adjustments, including how small the orchestra is for such a big hall, but overall enjoyed it. I was surprised how unfamiliar the fourth movement sounded, and attributed that to my always falling asleep after three movements.
The pre-concert was an intimate piece by Brahms (Intermezzo in A minor, Intermezzo in A major, Ballade in G minor, Intermezzo in F minor, Romanze in F major, and Intermesso in E-flat minor.) The appreciation of the piece was greatly helped by the notes in the Program.
On the way home, we put on the Mozart concerto, performed by Malcolm Bilson on period instruments. It sounded downright sunny.
We spent most of July in the Boston area. We left Boston at around 10:30 am this morning and got to the Lincoln Center area around 4:30 pm, managing to find off-street free parking on a Friday afternoon. We had time for coffee and a simple dinner before heading to the pre-concert. The box office had some problem with locating my “will-call” ticket (misfiled, they said,) but things got squared away eventually. Attendance was quite good (third tier was closed off,) but I wonder how many got discounted tickets like I did.