Last night, the New York Philharmonic gave a concert conducted by a young German, Ruth Reinhardt. When she took the stage, she also took a microphone, making an announcement: they would like to play something in memory of the victims of the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria. A touching gesture. And they would play a movement of Bach: the “Air on the G String” (from the composer’s Orchestral Suite in D major).
I have a memory of this air—a Philharmonic memory: it was the last thing that Kurt Masur conducted in his last New York concert as music director of the Philharmonic. That was in 2002. It was surpassingly beautiful.
Last night? To be frank, I thought the playing was dry, “period”-bound, and unaffecting. But I should record the opinion of a woman sitting behind me, who, when the air was finished, said with emotion, “Oh, my God.”
The formal program began with a curiosity, and a worthy one: the Overture for Orchestra, by Grażyna Bacewicz. Kind of a curious title, too, in that overtures are seldom for anything but orchestra. Bacewicz was a Pole, living from 1909 to 1969. She was the daughter of a composer. She composed this overture in Warsaw in 1943 (if you can imagine).
It had been played by the New York Philharmonic once before—in 1975, when Sarah Caldwell conducted a program of women composers. The concert was organized in concert with Ms. magazine.
Bacewicz’s overture is neat and well-crafted. By Maestra Reinhardt and the orchestra, it was competently executed. I had the impression, however, that more rehearsals would have helped. A greater familiarity.
Last night’s program followed the familiar format of overture-concerto-symphony. The concerto was an unusual one, however: In Seven Days (Concerto for Piano with Moving Image). This is a work by Thomas Adès, the British composer born in 1971. The pianist and the orchestra play while video plays on a large screen above and behind the orchestra. The video was crafted by Tal Rosner.
The Philharmonic performed this work in the 2010–11 season, with the composer at the keyboard and Alan Gilbert on the podium. Looking over my review, I am curious to find this: “I’m not sure that the score really needs video. I’d like to hear it straight, at least once.” I further wrote this:
Music with video is very popular now. Remember when all the highbrows looked down on Fantasia? Mocked and derided it? Now everyone and his brother is putting visual images to music, which makes me chuckle. Leopold Stokowski, Walt Disney, and Mickey Mouse were decades ahead of their time.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this trend of putting video with music has died down.
Serving as pianist last night was Kirill Gerstein, whose bio identifies him as a Soviet-born American citizen living in Berlin. I was glad for this information. As a rule, bios do not include biographical information, consisting of PR hype instead. I can’t help poking a little fun at one line, however: “A longtime believer in the role of teaching, Kirill Gerstein . . .” Oh, he’s the one!
In any event, Gerstein, Reinhardt, and the Philharmonic dealt with In Seven Days manfully. In trickier parts, especially in the early going, everyone seemed to be counting like mad. But the wagon stayed on the trail. The performers made a good case for this interesting work (by a brilliant composer).
Both Thomas Adès and the video artist, Tal Rosner, were on hand to take a bow. Then Gerstein sat down for an encore: more Adès, in the form of the lullaby from The Exterminating Angel. Gerstein played this piece with conviction and skill.
The Exterminating Angel is Adès’s opera from 2016. He must have made the piano arrangement of the lullaby himself. (Adès could have had a career as a pianist, if he had wanted.) Adès exploits the operas he writes. He gets as many pieces out of them as he can. Earlier this season, in Carnegie Hall, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, led by Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, played Adès’s Exterminating Angel Symphony.
Speaking of symphonies: after intermission, the New York Phil. and Ruth Reinhardt performed the Dvořák Fifth. When hearing a Dvořák symphony, we are apt to hear one of three: No. 7, in D minor (with its irresistible Slavonic dance in the middle); No. 8, in G (with its “horn sneeze,” among other things); and No. 9, the “New World.” No. 5 is in F major, Op. 76.
When, in 2020, a friend sent me a recording of Kirill Petrenko and the Berlin Philharmonic in this symphony, I was convinced it was an underappreciated masterpiece.
From Reinhardt and the New York Phil., it was competently executed. (I used that phrase once before, above.) Individuals in the orchestra did some outstanding things. Sherry Sylar delivered her supple, “bendy” lines on the oboe. Lino Gomez, on bass clarinet, delivered a knockout little solo: loud, glowing, and stylish. Overall, however, I would have liked more warmth from the orchestra. More richness. And more freedom and heart. Everything seemed a bit cautious and by-the-book.
I look forward to hearing Maestra Reinhardt again. And this marvelous symphony, by that Bohemian wizard and genius.