The NY Philharmonic Orchestra came to Ann Arbor last weekend (Oct 9-11) for a series of performances. They hosted master classes, played THREE SEPARATE SHOWS at Hill Auditorium, and members of the brass section played alongside the Michigan Marching Band in the UM-Northwestern halftime show on Saturday. The author went to three of these events, but is only getting paid to write about one (…). Nonetheless, all three performances will be elaborated upon in a holistic review of the weekend. Ya get three for the price of one. Journalism, mon amis.
The festivities really started Friday afternoon. There was a sound check for that Saturday’s performance in the Big House, which required all participating members to be present. Joining the MMB and the brass section of the NY Phil was the UMS Choral Union and Alumni Band (former MMB members). Upon entering the stadium, the author noticed the aura of Alan Gilbert, the musical director of the NY Phil, emanating from the ladder on top of which he stood. He was wearing a Bo Schemblechler cap (with a thin M) – Go Blue.
The rehearsal was open to the public, and the crowd was quite impressive for the event, with about 2,000 ballpark estimated attendees. The combined rehearsal started with a run through of the closer for the halftime show, a medley of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the Finale of his 9th Symphony. On first run, dynamics were simply stunning, and the timbre and tone were good enough to elicit the grandiose feel associated with the music. After Gilbert released the last fermata, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation. And when the author says erupted, he means that not one person was sitting milliseconds after the piece ended. The author and his counterparts have never received such admiration, and subsequently exploded in elation at what had just occurred.
Friday evening was the first performance by the NY Phil at Hill Auditorium. On the docket was Magnus Lindberg’s Vivo, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 7. The author sprinted from rehearsal in Michigan Stadium to Hill Auditorium with enough time to grab a 780 calorie burrito from 7-11 for dinner (college, amirite?). 30 stories higher with a sudden nosebleed, the author watched over the 3,500 person crowd, a good mix of the geriatric, young, and stable middle-aged in awe. There is nothing quite like sitting in a venue such as Hill when it is packed with dressed-up people who are as giddy for a performance as you are. It is simply a cherished moment in life. If you have never experience such a moment, the author suggests you get a date and do it. Then comment on how great it was. Asides aside, the NY Phil did exactly as any orchestra of their caliber would do. They played exceptionally, with only slight caveats being pointed out by Gilbert’s conducting style and otherwise unnoticeable. The author was particularly excited to hear Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and he got what was expected. One qualm about this specific interpretation was that it felt quiet and slow. This might be a conflict with the author’s personal style and expectations of the piece after hearing several (many, many) renditions of the 7th on YouTube and contrasting that with Gilbert’s interpretation. The author is not sore. The second piece, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was slated to be a close second favorite for the night until he remembered how he did not enjoy the works of Beethoven’s early period, the piano period. What can ya do. The piece was played very beautifully and brilliantly executed by the soloist, Inon Bartanan.
The halftime show on Saturday revealed a different side of music to people who may not necessarily understand what high proficiency and status in the music world looks like. MMB director John Pasquale said that quite literally nothing like this has ever happened on a football field before. And he is right. The performance not only pushed the boundaries of what is possible by college marching bands but also put on display some of the best performers to ever play their instrument. The numerous responses of admiration only accentuate how this event was perceived by the public. From a first-hand perspective, being on the field and conducted by a maestro such as Gilbert, in front of 110,500 people, the author can tell you that the experience was nothing short of spectacular. In addition to the two aforementioned pieces, the combined forces played exerpts from Ravel’s Bolero, Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s Requiem, Wagner’s Ritt der Walkuren (Ride of the Valkyries), and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. Click here to see the entire show.
Saturday night was another class-act performance by the NY Phil. On the bill was Esa Pekka Salonen’s L.A. Variations and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. L.A. Variations served to be a nice piece, albeit one that will have to be listened to again to fully appreciate. Ein Heldenleben, meaning a hero’s life for those of you who didn’t take German 201, was a piece that the author had not heard before, but was a surprising treat. Strauss’ tone poem goes through six facets of the hero’s life, with no pauses in between. Ein Heldenleben is said to be semi-autobiographical in that Strauss quotes many of his previous works in the piece. If one listens intently during the fifth movement some passages from Don Juan and Also Sprach Zarathustra can be identified.
It goes without saying, the quality of performers in the NY Philharmonic Orchestra is the top tier of the music world. Alan Gilbert is a man’s man’s conductor, and is a treat to learn from – his evocative movements contort the sound of the orchestra to suit his liking quite effectively. As a semi-amateur conductor, the author can elucidate that conducting is not easy; there is much psychology that goes into the role. All in all having the NY Phil on campus this past week was a huge treat. It brought huge exposure to music and to the State of Michigan, two things that are very near and dear to the author. Go Blue.