Saturday, 3 November 2007

Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall

On October 28, the Orchestra of St. Lukes gave a concert at Carnegie Hall.

The foyers are decorated with signed photographs of the great performers who have appeared there in the past. I was delighted to see that the arrangement of these is permanent and Joan Sutherland is still next to Frank Sinatra. Eugene Ormandy makes up the triptych.

The conductor on this occasion was Roberto Abbado (a nephew of Claudio).

The first piece on the program was an orchestral version of In Memory by the contemporary American composer Joan Tower. I first learned of Joan Tower at the AFCM Townsville where her Wild Purple for solo viola was played by Paul Neubauer, who plays it on the Naxos CD Joan Tower: Chamber and Solo Music, which also includes the original In Memory for string quartet played by the Tokyo String Quartet who gave its first performance in New York in 2002.

The program note explains that Joan Tower was in the course of writing this piece as a memorial to a friend when the attack of 11 September took place. She describes the music as expressing rage and anger at senseless loss and it has a much more agitated sound to it that would be expected from a memorial of the usual kind. On hearing of a 12 minute work with a very distant memory of the string quartet on CD is not enough make any comparison between the versions.

Joan Tower was there to acknowledge the audience.

Next was Samuel Barber’s Violin concerto played by Joshua Bell. This concerto opens with the memorable theme which I hope other people can get out of their head on being reminded of it. It then moves into wilder but less memorable territory. Joshua Bell is a fine player might be expected and produced a wonderful full tone at times. I hadn’t seen a performance of the Barber concerto before and saw (not heard ) for the first time that it had a piano part. At least where I was in the hall despite vigorous playing it was not audible.

After intermission Joshua Bell returned to play the world premiere of the violin concerto of Jay Greenberg, a prodigy who was born in December 1991. Not long ago. When we hear the work of prodigies of the past Mozart in particular but Mendelssohn as well we do so with knowledge of what came later. And the word “youthful” sounds right when used to describe their early works.

Greenberg’s concerto was enjoyable to hear but did not sound youthful in any similar sense. It was written in one movement but followed traditional structure as it had a slow middle section. The opening music sounded something like Copland to me. If I am wrong about this influence my description at least conveys the idea that the music opened tunefully. The texture of the orchestral music was varied with a number of conspicuous woodwind solos. And there was a piano part, which this time was given openings in the overall fabric and could be heard.
There were some more agitated sections and after the slow part the music became so again. The finale was similar in a way to the Barber concerto and like the Barber concerto gave many
opportunities to the violin.

The concert ended with Haydn’s Symphony 93, not the drum roll though it opens with one. I have enjoyed recent performances of earlier Haydn symphonies by the SSO and this one equally so. I may start a movement to smash all recordings of Haydn symphonies as they never seem to bring out the excitement and variation which can be heard in a performance. I have nothing against H.C. Robbins Landon or his work but the constant repetition of his overlong name and incantation of his remarks on this or that Haydn symphony leaves the impression that Haydn is deadly serious about some inscrutable 18th century questions. I think he just wanted to amuse people.
The second movement begins with a string quartet, which linked this last workin the concert with the first in a way.

I mentioned that Jay Greenberg is a prodigy. A CD of his Fifth Symphony (recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra) was available and he and Joshua Bell came to sign records. They sold a lot. I am almost ashamed to say I joined the hundreds waiting in line to get a signature. I’m not sure who is exploiting whom. Maybe Sony BMG is exploiting both artists and public. Joshua Bell, a more experienced celebrity, was the more popular signer. He smiled and shook hands with each of his admirers but his signature which he applied to CDs and, disobediently, to programs as well was reduced to two strokes of a red felt pen. Jay Greenberg did not smile or speak. About 17 years old, fifth symphony recorded by the LSO, a standing ovation in Carnegie Hall and then CDs to sign for Joshua Bell’s crowd. I hope he makes it.


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