Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The New York Philharmonic’s Contact! At Symphony Space, NYC 4/16/10

We’ve just wrapped up liveblogging this, explaining why everything here is in the present tense. The program has been a trio of world premieres, Alan Gilbert conducting ensembles of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra doing their frequent Contact! program of avant-garde pieces from acclaimed contemporary composers, WNYC’s John Schaefer (this guy gets around, huh?)  introducing each piece briefly in a discussion with its composer. Pre-concert sounds fluttering around the stage sounded menacingly enticing…

Sean Shepherd – These Particular Circumstances in seven uninterrupted episodes:

It’s a small ensemble – about fifteen performers. A fugue between fluttery strings and bells gives way to a couple of little horror movie crescendos (does this guy have a film music background? It would seem so). Suspenseful tradeoffs between individual voices, less for the sake of texture than to maintain suspense, it would seem. A series of animated, creepy crescendos – now this is fun! Straight out of Bernard Herrmann… Now a twisted little march – reminds of the one in Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony but less savage….lots of ensemble interplay, strings handing off to brass etc., ominous and full of tritones, it’s a Sam Fuller movie….the sections of the suite segue into each other seamlessly. Now it’s variations on a twisted little fanfare, down to moody strings with those bells delivering the dread – this crew is quietly and methodically having a blast with this! A bit of boogie-woogie piano opening a chase scene picked up by the strings…

Time to build the suspense some more, pensive, gentle little codas growing in intensity. Where’s Bogey when we need him? A matter-of-factly clanging, metallic bell-driven conclusion gets a standing ovation from what looks to be a sold out house (missed all of the John Schaefer/Sean Shepherd onstage interview while unplugging and making room for unexpected seatholders – supposedly the balcony was going to be the bloggers’ peanut gallery).

Magnus Lindberg (the Phil’s Composer-in-Residence) supposedly is responsible for this bill – he lets his taste be his guide (good taste!). He reminds that recent writing for smaller ensembles really took off in the 60s (he didn’t say this, but it’s harder to sell something new and strange to a full orchestra than it is to simply cobble together an ensemble half the size).   

Nico Muhly – Detailed Instructions, for orchestra:

Muhly is a ham, gets a lot of laughs out of the crowd talking beforehand – but he doesn’t give anything away. For this piece, violas substitute for violins in this particular ensemble. Interesting interlocking rhythm between strings and brass, into a circular, looping staccato passage for the winds over gentle string/brass swells…the winds work their way into the swells, every section stepping on the last beat of the previous note. Muhly said there wouldn’t be any detail in this and he wasn’t lying. It’s clever and well thought-out and holds the listener with its rhythmic devices rather than any particularly compelling melodic ideas….now they’ve got a nice atmospheric passage going on with flute accents (wait, this wasn’t supposed to be ornamented at all, ha!).

Second movement starts out pensive and sostenuto…Gilbert really has his hands full with the tricky rhythm but he’s got them legatissimo here…makes it look easy. It’s not. In the movie, if this was a movie, this would be the scene before the funeral, lulling but with the flute keeping everybody awake….sans flute it goes warmly lower, a tone poem, harp and low horn voices at the top/bottom of the spectrum.

Third movement is a gypsy dance, basically, keyboard bouncing around, flute carrying the melody…a suspenseful trombone/cello dialogue….Muhly likes to run a riff over and over again against a tonal wash….flute and harp now running the loop – and a cold ending. The crowd likes it but isn’t blown away – but then the piece wasn’t written to blow anybody away.

The machine says 58 minutes worth of juice left, so we should be able to stay live for the whole thing…

Matthias Pintscher – Songs from Solomon’s Garden featuring baritone and NY Phil Artist-in-Residence Thomas Hampson:

Larger ensemble than for the previous two (more strings). This seems as if it might be intended as a Song of Solomon type thing, Hampson singing in Hebrew, not one of his usual languages (it’s tempting to say “ca m’est hebreu”)…voice out in front of sparse percussive accents and little fluttery runs up the scale from the high strings….stark astringent washes with the occasional burbling accent and the first of probably several big crescendos…the vocal part seems forced, it doesn’t move around much or ask the singer to add much of anything in the way of character or individuality. The instrumental passages, by contrast are getting creepier and creepier, little jumps against the ambience…oooh a morbid swell, the temperature just dipped thirty degrees in here…and the occasional little macabre piano accent. With the addition of the vocal part, is this supposed to be some sort of study in contrasts?

A lull, a burst of drums, Santa has fallen all the way down into the fireplace. Now he’s up and dusted himself and creeping around again…and now he’s singing….and not singing…pianissimo upper-register atmospherics swirling and whooshing…no disrespect to Hampson, he’s doing what he does well but the vocals in this one were superfluous – first adventurous ensemble to do this as the eerie soundtrack piece that it is gets a prize!

 Q2 will broadcast the performance on April 22 at 7 PM and also on April 22 at 4 PM – the care they’ve taken to make sure they get a good recording (virtually all of the instruments have been close-miked) is pretty extraordinary.

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April 16, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment