Last Friday I had the pleasure to attend a concert by the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. It was conducted by Alan Gilbert, who is currently the Music Director of the Philharmonic. The conductor was born in New York City, into a New York Philharmonic family. Wikipedia states, “both his father, Michael Gilbert, and his mother, Yoko Takebe, have had careers as violinists in the Philharmonic. His mother still performs in the orchestra . . . . Gilbert made his first conducting appearance with the New York Philharmonic in 2001. After a total of thirty-seven appearances as guest conductor, on July 18, 2007, the New York Philharmonic appointed Gilbert as its next Music Director.”
When I saw the program of the concert it seemed to be a perfect fit for our class. It opened with Carnival by Antonín Dvořák, followed by World Premiere of Piano Concerto No.2 that was written by contemporary composer, Magnus Lindberg, and closed with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovskiy’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor. I am going to focus my review on Dvořák’s Carnival, but I also want to comment on Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No 2. The work is technically very demanding. The composer did not set up any limitations on this matter. The reason, as booklet that I was given before the concert states, was that Lindberg knew abilities of orchestral players well (when the piece was written he was the composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic) and because the concerto was composed for a particular soloist, Yefim Bronfman, who played the piano part at this concert. Yefim Bronfman is Grammy Award-winning pianist. His official website claims the he is “among the most talented virtuosos performing today. His commanding technique and exceptional lyrical gifts have won consistent critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences worldwide for his solo recitals, prestigious orchestral engagements and expanding catalogue of recordings.”
Piano Concerto No.2 is the second work of contemporary composers that I have heard being on concerts. The first work that I heard five years ago, was performed by the composer himself. I cannot recall his name, but I remember thinking to myself that I did not get the piece he was playing. And, unfortunately, this is the second time I cannot say that I liked the work. I felt like this concerto was one very long piece with a lot of tension and dissonances. It actually reminded me Symphony No 4 by Lutoslawski, which I wrote about in my previous blog. Both works have a dark and mysterious mood. For me, the concerto was depressing as well as the symphony. However, I have to admit that audience loved the piece. I would be glad to hear it again and try to understand it better, but it is impossible at this point because the work is new and not available on the internet yet.
Antonín Dvořák was a Czech composer. In 1889, he became a professor of composition at the Prague Conservatory. In 1892, Jeannette Thurber, a wealthy American music patron, offered Dvořák a position as artistic director and composition professor at New York’s National Music Conservatory. He agreed and worked there until 1895. Carnival is a “Life” part of a “Nature, Life and Love” trilogy of overtures written by the composer. His description of the work states, “the lonely, contemplative wanderer reaches the city at nightfall, where a carnival is in full swing. On every side is heard the clangor of instruments, mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity of people giving vent to their feelings in their songs and dance tunes.” Right from the beginning, the piece abounds with dance rhythms. I noticed some folk motives, probably from his motherland. The first part is very energetic and has a very bright and colorful sound. You can feel the joy the composer talked about in his description. The composition has a contrasting middle section, where everything slows down. This part has a wonderful interlude on the flute and the English horn. It brings a lyrical mood to the composition. In the middle of this section a violin joins the duet between flute and English horn. It feels like, in the second part of the piece, the composer tried to portray a wanderer who just came in to an unfamiliar city. I can easily imagine how he is walking down the streets, watching people and exploring new places. After the second part ends, the composition goes back to the first, full of joy, section. Carnival is a beautiful musical work. I enjoyed this overture very much.
Before I went to the concert I watched a couple of performances of these composition on the internet and they were good. However, live performance, if it is a good one, gives emotions that you cannot get by watching a video on YouTube. Alan Gilbert is an amazing conductor. Orchestral players were like a one united whole. They played stunningly. It was an outstanding performance and I will definitely attend more concerts by the New York Philharmonic.
Carnival by Antonín Dvořák: