REVIEW: New York Philharmonic

Saturday night, Hill Auditorium was absolutely packed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the auditorium sold out before, but this was just about at peak capacity. And only after I’d finished appraising the crowd, everyone so nicely suited up, did I notice the orchestra was already tuning on stage. It was a smaller section of the orchestra that they used for the first two Mozart pieces, making up the first half of the concert. Regardless, their sound was more than impressive. From the moment the conductor walked on stage, I entirely forgot where I was until it all ended in a final, flourished wave of his arm.

The first piece, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492 was absolutely staggering. Every turn of the music left me wondering, what’s coming next? As I sat their listening, I tried to imagine what I would be doing if I were in a silent film where this was the soundtrack. I imagined me dancing, then the floor gave out and I was falling, then I was laughing and flirting with a dashing gentleman, then he murders me! With every twist and lift of the synchronized first violinists, the attitude of the piece entirely shifted. As every overture should conclude, it was a valiant finish that left everyone squirming in their seats, wanting more.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425 was the second piece and even more fantastic than its predecessor. Just as flourished albeit a little more charming and embellished with shadows of passion, this piece too was breathtakingly perfect.

That’s the other thing about the New York Philharmonic – I don’t think you can do it any better! Both their Mozart pieces and the Brahms were absolutely flawless. After the show, I had froyo with a friend of mine who attended the concert with me and I asked her, seeing as she is quite an esteemed musician herself, how do you do it better than that? She replied, simply, you don’t.

The Brahms piece they played was one that took Brahms nearly 11 years to compose. 11 years on the same symphony!? I can’t even imagine. I write short fiction as part of my creative writing major here and that would mean that I would have started a story back when I was nine if I were to write a story in the time it took Brahms to write his first symphony. What?! The piece was, of course, stellar. It said in the program that it was fairly lengthy compared to the average arrangement of the time, however, I swear it felt like I sat in my seat for not 10 minutes when it had actually been two hours for the whole concert. I couldn’t believe it had ended, and I was actually sort of upset I hadn’t seen it coming.

In conclusion to my rave review of the New York Phil, it was just so great. Peter Laki, UMS correspondent, wrote in the program book: “The classics provide us with much-needed emotional stability in these volatile and uncertain times, and we must make sure we bequeath our love of them to those coming after us, just as we inherited it from those who have been here before.” Truly, nothing is better than that.

PREVIEW: New York Philharmonic

Saturday, February 23 at 8pm, the New York Philharmonic will be performing in Hill Auditorium! Come check out this prestigious ensemble alongside the UMS Choral Union as they wow the audience with fantastical overtures by both Brahms and Mozart. It is sure to be a stellar performance!

So, where will you be Saturday, February 23 at 8pm?

Hope to see you there 🙂 <-- more info on the performance!

REVIEW: Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra with Lang Lang

· Prokofiev : Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (“Classical”) (1917)
· Prokofiev : Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 (1917-21)
· Encore – Chopin : Etude, Op. 10, No 3
· Brahms : Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 (1877)
· Encore : Smetana’s “Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride

Did you know Lang Lang has his own shoe? Of the facts from the talk at the Arts and Eats Program, that was probably the most interesting one! Never mind that all of the members of the orchestra are all 26 years old or younger (they’re all virtuosos)…a shoe with his picture and his name in Chinese on it. Of course, the first thing I did when I returned to my room was to google it.

Our seats were in the very last row of the middle of the mezzanine section. While these seats are usually pretty cheap, they turned out to be perfect for my friend and me. The person in front of us was at least 6.5 feet tall and if we were sitting down, we would not be able to see anything! We ended up letting the seat fold up and then sit on top of that. The Arts and Eats program turned out to be a pretty good deal after all!

I found the selection of pieces to be very intriguing. The first Prokofiev piece took me by surprise and was much more “cheerful” than I expected. To be honest, I was expecting a loud crash of the symbols, dissonant chords played by the strings and brass, topped off by a smattering of the drums and timpani. Instead, the symphony sounded more reminiscent of a classical symphony, but with a little more freedom and less restriction of the form. The second piece, the piano concerto with Lang Lang had more of modern music that I was expecting. The piece was not hard to listen to though, since the piano melody helped relieve some of the tension felt in the notes played by the brass and strings section.

By the last piece, a lot of the audience was gone. I had a vague impression that the majority of the Asians who had tickets (I noticed there was a larger percentage of Asians at this concert than in previous classical music concerts) were gone. Lang Lang was also done playing. I loved the Brahms symphony though. It turned out to be a very characteristically “orchestral” piece. And throughout, I was sure I heard snippets of Brahms’ famous “Lullaby,” creating the perfect ending to a long day.

PREVIEW: Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra with Lang Lang

Date: Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 at 8 pm
Location: Hill Auditorium
Tickets: rush tix available at the League today!

· Prokofiev : Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (“Classical”) (1917)
· Prokofiev : Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 (1917-21)
· Brahms : Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 (1877)

I have finally taken advantage of the UMS Arts and Eats Program and I look forward to a pizza dinner, talk from an expert, and good seats. Though I have been to many piano and orchestra concerts, I am excited to hear the “biggest, most exciting keyboard talent encountered in many years” (quoted from the Chicago Tribune). I’ll keep y’all posted about the “good” seats and the talk from the expert!

REVIEW: When the Berliners held us captive

It is a pleasure to be in Ann Arbor (thank you,UMS) which enjoys such exclusivity that it is often a stop along with the “other music capitals”   on the tours that the best and the brilliant artists make. The pleasure turned into pure bliss when the Berliner Philharmoniker was in town yesterday.

Berliner Philharmoniker at the Hill auditorium
Berliner Philharmoniker at the Hill auditorium

The Berliner Philharmoniker, one of the oldest as well as the best orchestras of today, is currently on a coast-to-coast seven-stop U.S. Tour. In September 2009, the orchestra released a recording of Brahms Symphonies (four in total), conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Hence on the U.S. tour, these symphonies play the centrepiece of their concerts along with Brahms’ other compositions and Schoenberg’s (an ardent lover of Brahms) creations too.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts with such precision and clarity (probably as was an orchestral percussionist himself) that even the listener will attune his emotions to the conductor’s  movements (or so I felt).  A far-sighted visionary with big plans for the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Rattle is one of the main supporters of the Digital Concert Hall (I love this concept, check it out).

Sir Simon Rattle
Sir Simon Rattle

Now back to the performance.

Brahms’ Symphony # 3: the first piece of  the evening

This symphony, in F Major is such a beautiful piece. First, a little on the structure of the symphony. The first movement ( in the tempo allegro con brio) starts very vigorously with a three note opening, the energy of which startles the listener, making him sit up straight and pay attention. There is a brief lull where the strings play an expressive melody and the opening theme comes back with full vigor. The notes go back and forth between the major and the minor modes. The theme is recurrent and there is a sense of foreboding and urgency.

The second movement is a slow one with a recurring theme, almost conversational, I feel. The horns,bassoons and the strings seem to be having a dialogue. There are many  variations of  the theme and it borders on being sad in a restful quiet way.

The third movement is faster and more melodious. I LOVED this the best. There is a mode change and the theme is briefly optimistic before returning to a sad melody.

The final fourth movement starts in hushed tones. But then suddenly, you hear the theme from the second movement, with the dynamics  completely different this time, played in a loud confident manner. The ending is soft and inconclusive.

In this symphony,  there isn’t much percussion. But then the staccatos and the abrupt note changes of the strings almost keep a rhythm going. There are so many layers of emotions to this symphony that it is unbelievable.

My interpretation of symphony No.3

As I was listening to the symphony, I could imagine a story unfolding. The first movement starts with news of the war (the brisk energy). There is panic and the womenfolk mumble softly among themselves (the strings).  Then the Prince leaves along with the warriors (the resounding ending).

The second movement is about the conversations of the womenfolk left behind. The Princess and her friends talk among themselves about their men. There is talk of separation( the quiet melancholic tone) and of pride in the Prince’s valor ( the buoyant tone, especially of the horn). I  also “saw” the mixing of the sad and buoyant tones this way- “Someone was about to burst into tears but then they changed their mind as if they suddenly remembered something to be happy about.”

As for the third movement, news from the battlefield returns and the town is mourning for the lost Prince, also feared to be dead (the almost sad theme). There are some rumors that he might be alive (the minor-to-major mode change). But then that is not so and the princess mourns along with her subjects (the main melody played by the horn and taken by the string section).

In the finale, they are still mourning (hushed voices). There is more sadness (theme from the second movement). There is finally good news  that the Prince has returned triumphant and all rejoice (the resounding trumpets and the entire orchestra).  The princess tells the Prince about what she went through (the second movement theme again) and there is a quiet and thankful rejoicing (the first movement theme returns). It all ends with all wondering if there would be another war (the mysterious ending).

Back to the performance

Moving on to the performance of  the Berlin Philharmonic  in particular, their rendition of  Symphony #3 was out of the ordinary. I was seated in the second row and I could see the players so close. They were completely one with the music (some were playing it by heart) and I felt that the beauty of Brahms’ work shone through purely because of  the conductor’s and  the musicians’ interpretation. In this symphony, the horn, bassoon and the contrabassoon hold such a key part and the players were absolutely brilliant. The string section was of course amazing too.

Arnold Schoenberg’s “Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene”

After a 20 minute intermission, the orchestra treated us to one of Schoenberg’s works.

Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg

Titled “Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene” (music to accompany a film scene, this was so different. It is a perfect example of Schoenberg’s 12-tone system and it was disturbing. It had three sections- danger, fear and catastrophe. The first thing that came to mind was that it was perfect background music for a classic Hitchcock movie, especially “Birds”.

Hitchcock's "Birds"

Brahms’ Symphony No.4

Next, the orchestra performed symphony #4 in E Minor. This was Brahms’ final symphony and is considered one of his most celebrated works.

To me, the first movement was the many bests of the evening. There are two themes (rhythmic and lyrical) to this one that keep entwining about one other, one soft and the other energetic and the final coda is an explosive outburst that brings the two themes together. I absolutely loved the soft melody of the strings and the exuberant end of this movement. The second movement also has a similar thing going on.

The third movement, the only real scherzo of Brahms’s symphonies, is so energetic and triumphant.The clarity and sharpness  given by the timpanist as well as violins was so clear here.

The fourth movement is like a roller coaster ride- with a initial bass theme followed by one of the most beautiful violin melodies and then a resounding crescendo. Then the tempo slows down and there is a flute solo followed by other solos while the violins are softly playing in the background. In the end, we hear the turbulent opening theme of the finale again and there is a somewhat sad ending that leaves you wanting for more.

And we wanted more too as we pleaded in vain with Sir Rattle for an encore. Alas, we didn’t get an encore and while I believe in moderation- in-everything, it definitely does not apply to  doses of divine music like these.

Krithika, [art]seen reviewer

Krithika is still in heaven after the night’s performance and will resume earthly duties only when it is absolutely impossible to procrastinate any further. 🙂