Saturday, June 30, 2012

New paintings at the National Academy

We just ended the June session at the National Academy of Design.

We had two great models, Claudia and Brian. Both of them had such a strong presence that I thought I'd push the envelope a bit, taking my cue from my favorite contemporary figurative expressionists:

Paul Wright
Alex Kanevsky
Mark Horst
Daniel Ochoa
Nathan Ford

Claudia said some nice things about the paintings on her blog. She's such a great lady and a true artist's model. I hope I get to work with her again soon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Swan Lake at the ABT

(photo courtesy of American Ballet Theater)

Composer: Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky
Choreography: Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov
Conductor: David LaMarche

Odette/Odile: Polina Semionova
Prince Siegfried: David Hallberg
Benno - Sacha Radetsky
von Rothbart - Roman Zhurbin (Acts 2 and 4), Alexandre Hammoudi (Act 3)

The last time I saw Swan Lake was Nina Ananiashvili's farewell with Angel Corella (Siegfried) and Marcelo Gomes (von Rothbart) in 2009. I was looking forward to last night's American Ballet Theater performance which featured two dancers that I haven't seen before: Polina Semionova and David Hallberg.

Semionova and Hallberg are visually stunning together - both are tall, long limbed, and technically flawless with gorgeous extensions and arched feet that project across the Met's auditorium. Hallberg's buoyant jumps and wide eyed look made his character seem like an impressionable and easily manipulated prince. His presence is rather weightless and otherworldly (partly because of his pallor and slight frame) - he seemed as though he was more at home in the lake of tears rather than the palace.

Semionova's Odette was absolutely captivating. Her fluttering arms and arching back in Act 2 were full of vulnerability and aching longing. Her Odile was equally brilliant with superb balances - I think she did all 32 fouettes to the rapture of the audience. Her characterization was one of hauteur rather than calculating seduction. The only thing that was disconcerting was her fixed smile - there wasn't much nuance to her facial expression apart from a few side glances.

Hammoudi was a princely von Rothbart but lacked the menacing charisma of Marcelo Gomes, who pretty much owns that role. Radetsky was a pleasing contrast to Hallberg. He has an amiable stage presence as well as solid technique.

McKenzie's production, after all these years, still seems to end abruptly. Nevertheless, there are few things in life that are as wondrous as Swan Lake, especially when it's as well performed as last night's production. Hallberg and Semionova will reprise their roles on Friday. I'm so tempted to see them again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Season Finale at the Philharmonic

(photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Alan Gilbert, Conductor
Emanuel Ax, Piano
Jennifer Zetlan, Soprano
Jennifer Johnson Cano, Mezzo-Soprano
Paul Appleby, Tenor
Joshua Hopkins, Baritone
New York Choral Artists, Joseph Flummerfelt, Director

MOZART Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482 (1785)
MOZART Mass in C Minor, Great, K. 427 (1782)

Last Wednesday I attended the final subscription concert of the New York Philharmonic featuring Emanuel Ax in an all-Mozart program.

Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto No. 22 at the same time as The Marriage of Figaro, which might explain the concerto's almost narrative melodic structure. Its themes, which include lovely passages for the clarinet, unfold in a graciously regal manner with keyboard passages that are like extended arias. Ax's interpretation was quietly refined and free of any flourishes. It was a pleasure to listen to him.

Ax will be the orchestra's artist in residence next season. His upcoming concerts will include works for piano by Bach, Mozart, Schoenberg, and a modern piece by Christopher Rouse. It will be interesting to hear him in these varied pieces.

Like his Requiem, Mozart's Mass in C Minor is an unfinished liturgical masterpiece that features a soprano/mezzo/tenor/baritone quartet alternating with the choral parts. The Mass isn't quite as dark as the Requiem but is nevertheless full of solemn beauty. Zetlan, Cano, Applyby, and Hopkins performed admirably, and the New York Choral Artists were magnificent.

Gilbert once said:
Mozart's music looks deceptively easy on the page, and it's deceptively simple sounding, but he actually poses a great challenge....

Mozart does not put a lot of instruction in his scores. there are suprisingly few dynamics, and almost no changes of tempo. Other composers, such as Mahler, hand much of the interpretation to the performer on a platter; you know when he wants less, or more, and when he wants rubato. With Mozart the roadmap is not specifically determined. 
As a Mozart interpreter, Gilbert is very much a classicist. While he conducted the concerto and the Mass with a natural sense of balance, he also drew out the melancholy and dramatic aspects of the music within the framework of classical decorum: always correct and never overtly sentimental.

It's been great rediscovering the Philharmonic during the second half of the 2011-12 season. I've subscribed to an eight concert series for next season, which will include some favorites such as Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, Elgar's Enigma Variations, and Handel's Messiah. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949–1960

Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949–1960 focuses on the legacy of James Johnson Sweeney, the museum's second director. Sweeney sought works that exemplified the experimental movements of the 1950s, including many schools that I knew nothing about.

Here's a summary from the exhibition website:
Abstract Expressionism encompasses a diverse range of postwar American painting that challenged the tradition of vertical easel painting. Beginning in the late 1940s, Jackson Pollock placed his canvases on the floor to pour, drip, and splatter paint onto them. This gestural act, with variations practiced by William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, and others, was termed "Action painting" by critic Harold Rosenberg, who considered it a product of the artist's unconscious outpouring or the enactment of some personal drama. 
The New York school expanded in the 1950s with the unique contributions of such painters as James Brooks and Grace Hartigan, and energetic collagist-assemblers Conrad Marca-Relli and Robert Rauschenberg. Other painters eliminated the gestural stroke altogether. Mark Rothko used large planes of color, often to express universal human emotions and inspire a sense of awe for a secular world. Welder-sculptors such as Herbert Ferber and Theodore Roszak are also counted among the decade's pioneering artists. 
The postwar European avant-garde in many ways paralleled the expressive tendencies and untraditional methods of their transatlantic counterparts, though their distinct cultural contexts differed. For artists in Spain, abstract art signified political liberation. Dissenting Italian artists correspondingly turned to abstraction against the renewed popularity of politicized realism. French artist Jean Dubuffet's spontaneous approach, Art Brut (Raw art), retained figurative elements but radically opposed official culture, instead favoring the unprompted and direct works of untrained individuals. His work influenced the Cobra group (1948–51) founded by Karel Appel, Asger Jorn, and other artists from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. The Cobra artists preferred thickly painted surfaces that married realism to lively color and expressive line in a new form of "primitivism." 
Eventually taking root in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, Art Informel (Unformed art) refers to the antigeometric, antinaturalistic, and nonfigurative formal preoccupations of many European avant-garde artists, and their pursuit of spontaneity, looseness of form, and the irrational. Art Informel is alternatively known by several French terms: Abstraction lyrique (Lyrical Abstraction), Art autre (Art of another kind), matiérisme (matter art), and Tachisme (from tache, meaning blot or stain). The movement includes the work of Alberto Burri and Antoni Tàpies, who employed unorthodox materials like burlap or sand and focused on the transformative qualities of matter. Asian émigré artists Kumi Sugaï and Zao Wou-Ki were likewise central to the postwar École de Paris (School of Paris) and melded their native traditions with modern painting styles. 
By the end of the 1950s, artists such as Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and Piero Manzoni were exploring scientific, objective, and interactive approaches, and introduced pure monochrome surfaces. Other abstractionists engaged viewers' senses and explored dematerialization, focusing on optical transformations as opposed to the art object itself, and investigating the effects of motion, light, and color.
This dazzling show includes works by many unfamiliar artists who were inspired by pioneers such as Dubuffet and Pollock but also broke new ground with their own visual language. Evidently, expressionism in the 1950s extended far beyond New York and I had fun learning about its various permutations across the globe.

The exhibit will be on view until September 12, 2012. Large scale abstractions are best experienced up close and in person, so don't miss this opportunity to view these beautiful paintings, most of which will probably not be shown in New York again any time soon.

Mark Rothko
Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red)

Emilio Vedova
Image of Time (Barrier)

Alberto Burri

Jackson Pollock
Ocean Greyness

Willem de Kooning

Karel Appel
The Crying Crocodile Tries to Catch the Sun

Conrad Marca-Relli

Kenzo Okada

Pierre Soulages
Painting, November 20, 1956

Grace Hartigan

Antoni Tapies
Great Painting

Takeo Yamaguchi

Asger Jorn
A Soul For Sale

Jean Dubuffet
The Substance of Stars

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Romeo and Juliet at the ABT

(photo courtesy of Ballet Magazine)

Choreography - Kenneth MacMillan
Music - Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor - Charles Barker

Romeo - Marcelo Gomes
Juliet - Diana Vishneva
Mercutio - Aaron Scott
Tybalt - Gennadi Saveliev
Benvolio - Jared Matthews
Paris - Alexandre Hammoudi
Lady Capulet - Kristi Boone
Lord Capulet - Roman Zhurbin
Nurse - Kelley Boyd
Friar Laurence - Alexei Agoudine
Lady Montague - Jessica Saund
Lord Montague - Vitali Krauchenka

Last Friday I attended Romeo and Juliet at the Anerican Ballet Theater. Prokofiev composed the score in September 1935 for the Kirov Ballet (the Bolshoi Ballet had rejected the music as undanceable). The original choreography for the Kirov was by Leonid Lavrovsky.

The ABT production features Sir Kenneth MacMillan's staging for the Royal Ballet in 1965. It is a sprawling piece which emphasizes acting as much as dancing, and therefore each performance can look totally different depending on the cast.

I've seen the ballet a few times though not since Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca performed it a decade ago. This time, Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva brought their distinctive rapport into play, and the effect was like watching a couple reenact their first romance.

As Romeo, Gomes was a rather brash heartbreaker - not innocent at all but knowing and confident in the ways of love. When he first spots Juliet at the Capulet ball, he looked like a vulture circling his prey before moving in for the kill.

Vishneva's frail beauty suited her characterization of a young girl who at first didn't know what to make of her attraction to (gasp) a boy from the enemy clan. Her tremulous bourrées conveyed her excitement and apprehension on meeting Romeo for the first time. A century ago Vishneva would have been a major silent film star - her emoting was utterly convincing, particularly in her solo bedroom scene right before she swallows sleeping potion.

MacMillan devised four duets for the principals with similar motifs but which vary markedly depending on Juliet's frame of mind (or physical condition): first at the Capulet ball, then the balcony scene, then the bedroom scene, then the crypt scene where Romeo mourns the seemingly dead Juliet and carries her around in grief. Vishneva and Gomes were astonishing in all four.

Hammoudi was a noble and sympathetic Paris. I'd love to see him as Romeo one day. Scott likewise made a wonderful impression as Mercutio - he was like an innocent pup who gets killed in gang warfare and his death scene was quite affecting

I guess it's a sign of my own, umm...  maturation that the character that I most identify with nowadays isn't Romeo but rather the Nurse, played by the excellent Boyd. These kids, tsk, tsk, what are we going to do with them.

Barker conducted Prokofiev's magnificent score with clarity and passion. The march of the Capulets had a brooding grandeur that foreshadowed the tragedy.

In spite of the dead spots (as a choregrapher, MacMillan was no Petipa, or even Balanchine for that matter) I really enjoyed this ballet. It's what ABT does best. The performance was s bit campy at times but always entertaining and ultimately very moving, as evidenced by the thunderous cheers during the curtain calls. I wish I had the time to see the other casts but hopefully the ABT will revive Romeo and Juliet again next year.

Friday, June 15, 2012


(photo courtesy of Babbo)

I've been going to Babbo for a few years and have always enjoyed Mario Batali's personal take on Italian cuisine. He offers many items that you won't find anywhere else, and in the past I've enjoyed his pig's foot milanese, lamb's brain francobilli, goose liver ravioli, as well as standards such as the grilled octopus, roast duck, and lamb chops.

I returned a few days ago and tried the traditional tasting menu, which I've never done before. It was awesome.

Chickpea bruschetta - chickpeas on toast. The classic Babbo amuse bouche, as good as ever.

Duck Bresaola with House-Made Giardinier - thin slices of cured duck breast served with pickled vegetables. Nice and lightly balanced flavors here.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles and Thyme - perfectly buttery and delicious.

Duck Tortelli with “Sugo Finto” - ravioli filled with duck confit and ricotta with a pancetta reduction, Excellent dish.

Grilled Guinea Hen with Fregula “Verde” and Black Truffle Vinaigrette - perfectly cooked dark meat with a vegetable medley.

Coach Farm’s Finest with Fennel Honey - creamy goat cheese served with toast and a dollop of honey mixed with fennel seeds.

Fig and Rhubarb “Palacinche” - layers of thin crepes (about an inch thick) bound with mascarpone and fig jam and topped with candied rhubarb. A more flavorful version of the Lady M mille crepe cake.

Lemon “Biancomangiare” with Brown Butter Dates and Pistachios - light lemon custard with stewed dates and chopped pistachios. My favorite dessert course.

Chocolate Delizia “Sotto Cappello” with Salty Cashews - chocolate terrine with meringue and salted cashews. Quite rich but wonderful.

Petit fours - Italian cookies including meringues and biscotti.

I was beyond stuffed. This was a massive amount of food for $75 which was reasonable compared to other high end Italian restaurants in New York. The curious thing about it was the preponderance of poultry: two duck dishes and one guinea hen dish (and no seafood or beef). The preparations were all quite unique though so I didn't notice anything unusual until I started typing this blog entry.

The great thing about Babbo is that you can get the full menu at the bar, even extended ones like this. And they will not rush you out no matter how crowded it gets. Also, the restaurant just started serving lunch which is still pretty quiet and low key compared to dinner.

I'm glad that after 14 years Babbo is still going strong. Kudos to Batal and his team for making Babbo a consistently enjoyable place to dine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Printed Image in China, 8th–21st Century

A confession: I know nothing about Chinese art. I can't distinguish a Chinese scroll from a Japanese or Korean one. I often visit the Asian galleries at the Metropolitan Museum but hardly pay attention to the wall texts. I just like the serene space with all those Buddhas and pale ceramics.

Another confession: I have a terrible prejudice against prints. I think of them as applied arts, just like photography. I guess monotypes would be the exception, but I have this notion that printmaking isn't really an artistic activity like drawing or painting, Too mechanical, too mass market, too... unglamorous. I mean, have there been any Hollywood movies about anguished printmakers? I don't think so.

In spite of my ignorance I was quite bowled over by The Printed Image in China, 8th–21st Century at the Met featuring 130 items on loan from the British Museum.

Printing was invented by the Chinese in 700 A.D. as a means of disseminating the Buddhist faith and eventually became a vehicle for secural artistic expression as well as nationalistic propaganda. Unlike Chinese painting, the stylistic evolution of prints from one dynasty to the next is much more obvious and easily grasped for someone like me with no background in Chinese art.

The show is gorgeous and I particularly loved the items from the 17th and 20th centuries. I'm still boggled all the fine nuances and elegant lines as well as the spirit of experimentation. I'm now thinking about taking a print class at the National Academy. At any rate the exhibit has inspired me to learn more about the many facets of Asian art - maybe that will be my project this summer.

The show is on view until July 29, 2012. More images here.

Period: Tang dynasty (618–907)
Date: 9th century
Medium:Woodblock print; ink on paper with added mount and colors
Image: 15 15/16 x 6 11/16 in. (40.5 x 17 cm)
Overall: 21 15/16 x 16 in. (55.8 x 40.6 cm)

Three Equesttrians
Period: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Date: late 17th century
Medium: Woodblock print; color on paper
Image: 11 3/8 x 11 9/16 in. (28.9 x 29.4 cm)
Overall: 22 3/8 x 16 in. (56.8 x 40.7 cm)

Door Guardian
Period: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Date: early 18th century
Medium: Woodblock print; ink and color on paper with additional hand coloring
Image: 18 3/8 x 16 in. (46.6 x 40.7 cm)
Overall: 21 15/16 x 16 in. (55.7 x 40.7 cm)

Calendar Poster with a Lady Hu Boxiang (Chinese, 1896–1989)
Date: 1930
Medium: Photolithograph; ink and color on paper
Image: 45 9/16 x 15 1/16 in. (115.8 x 38.2 cm)

Old Man
Wang Shuyi (Chinese, 1916–1999)
Date: ca. 1947
Medium: Woodblock print; oil based ink on paper
Image: 5 13/16 x 5 1/8 in. (14.7 x 13 cm)
Overall: 22 x 16 in. (55.9 x 40.7 cm)

Mount Huang Series No. 5
Zhao Zongzao (Chinese, born 1931)
Date: 1991
Medium: Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Image: 23 3/4 x 178 3/4 in. (60.3 x 454.1 cm)

Phantom Landscapes III
Yang Yongliang (Chinese, born 1980)
Date: 2007
Medium: Digital pictures; inkjet print on paper
Image: 17 11/16 x 17 11/16 in. (45 x 45 cm)
Overall: 26 15/16 x 20 in. (68.5 x 50.8 cm)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Onegin at the American Ballet Theater

(photo courtesy of the American Ballet Theater)

Choreography - John Cranko
Conductor - Ormsby Wilkins

Eugene Onegin - Marcelo Gomes
Lensky - Jared Matthews
Madame Larina - Susan Jaffe
Tatiana - Diana Vishneva
Olga - Natalia Osipova
Nurse - Susan Jones
Prince Gremin - Gennadi Saveliev

I've never seen a ballet by John Cranko and so last night I bought a ticket to Onegin at the American Ballet Theater. The cast included Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva who were so radiant in Giselle last year. I was eager to seem them again in a new work.

Onegin is based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin which Tchaikovsky adapted into an opera. For his ballet, Cranko didn't use any of Tchaikovsky's opera music. Instead, Cranko cribbed bits and pieces from the composer's other scores. This was the main weakness of the production: the music did not have the dramatic sweep of Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet. Instead it sounded like "classic lite" background muzak which didn't do much to propel the plot or project the characters' emotions.

As for the choreography, there were a few memorable moments: Onegin stepping through the mirror during Tatiana's dream sequence, and prostrating himself when he begs her forgiveness in the last scene. The miming was clear but otherwise the choreography was rather generic. I was hoping to get a sense of Cranko's style but didn't come away with a clear impression other than his love (and endless repetition) of grand gestures to make the same statement over and over again.

The pairing of Gomes and Vishneva though was worth the price of the ticket. Gomes is a superb actor and the sort of danseur noble that makes his prima ballerina shine even brighter. Their chemistry was palpable and a pleasure to watch.

Osipova was a bit of a scene stealer but she's a minor character here. Mathews and Saveliev were superb foils for Gomes - they projected an insouciance and noblesse oblige that contrasted with Gomes's dark and disruptive presence.

Onegin will always be popular because we can all identify with either Tatiana, Onegin, or both. I was surprised by the resonance of the story which seemed so silly on paper. The full house and deafening applause during curtain calls attest to the accessibility of this ballet and ensure its permanence in the repertory of the ABT.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bach, Mozart, and Stravinsky at the Philharmonic

J.S. BACH Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 (1717-1723)
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 5, Turkish (1775)
STRAVINSKY Concerto in D major for String Orchestra (1946, revised 1961)
MOZART Symphony No. 39 (1788)

Last night the New York Philharmonic performed a program of Bach, Mozart, and Stravinsky with Pinchas Zukerman as the soloist and conductor.

Zukerman is an apollonian artist. His accounts of the Bach and Mozart concerti were very correct, tasteful, and patrician though he managed to avoid any dullness with his thoughtful phrasing and elegant, singing line.

The Stravinsky concerto did not have a solo part but it nevertheless sounded like a logical extension of Bach and Mozart. The strings played with uncommon sweetness (for Stravinsky anyway) and the piece as a whole brimmed with gentility. In context, Jerome Robbins' choreography in The Cage highlighted the same concerto's more sinister aspects but last night's reading was anything but that.

Mozart's Symphony No. 39 is the last of the composer's three great and final symphonic works. Zukerman drew a poignant account from the orchestra. The wind section was especially fine.

The season concludes with more Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 22 and the Mass in C Minor. I can't wait for that concert.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Death of a Salesman

(photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)

Willy Loman - Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Linda Loman - Linda Edmond
Biff Loman - Andrew Garfield
Happy Loman - Finn Wittrock
Ben - John Glover
Charley - Bill Camp
Bernard - Fran Kranz
Howard Wagner - Remy Auberjonois
Stanley - Glenn Fleshler
Miss Forsythe - Stephanie Janssen
Second Waiter - Barry Koed
Jenny - Kathleen McNenny
Letta - Elizabeth Morton
The Woman - Molly Price

Director - Mike Nichols

I haven't been to the theater in years but last Saturday I attended the final performance of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman on Broadway.

I've never seen the play before and my only exposure to Arthur Miller was reading The Crucible in college. Perhaps I made the mistake of reading too many reviews before going to the show, but this tragedy, which was well acted, seemed more of an intellectual exercise rather than a heartfelt response to the powerful script.

As mentioned elsewhere, Hoffman's character seemed to be suffering from a nervous disorder - dementia and perhaps bipolar rage - and therefore his fate did not have a mythic, pre-destined feel. I also didn't sense much of a connection between him and his sons, even in the flashback scenes.

Garfield as Biff Loman had a magnetic stage presence but seemed to be acting in a vacuum even with Wittrock who played is brother Happy Loman. Edmond was fine as the alienated wife - perhaps her character felt the most real because the lack of rapport among the cast members worked to her advantage.

My impression was that of top notch auditions spliced together rather than truly organic ensemble acting. The beautiful stage design, which was recreated from the original 1949 production, perhaps set the tone for the dutiful, by-the-book characterizations.

Like all good myths, however, the play's archetypes still resonate, and there's something to be said about seeing this work for the first time pretty much as Arthur Miller had envisioned it. Perhaps I should thank the director for that.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

The best thing at the Metropolitan Museum right now is a small, radiant show called Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.

Because of restoration, Accademia Carrara lent the Met fifteen paintings by Venetian and north Italian masters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including works by Bellini, Titian, and Lorenzo Lotto.

For me, the highlight of the exhibit was the exquisite and psychologically astute Portrait of a Twenty-Nine-Year-Old Man by Giovanni Battista Moroni. From the gallery label:
This portrait of an unidentified young man shows Moroni at the height of his powers. The direct manner and the sitter’s forthright gaze are hallmarks of the artist’s approach. The great historian Roberto Longhi wrote that the depiction is "so real, simple, documentary that it actually communicates a sense of certainty of having known the model." The painting is one of a small group in which the sitter is shown bust length behind a parapet bearing an inscription as if carved in elegant letters, sometimes giving the sitter’s age and the date.
Indeed, why embellish a portrait with props, fancy clothing, or crazy brushstrokes? This was a lesson in simplicity that took my breath away. Moroni deserves a higher profile.

The exhibit will be on view until September 3, 2012. More images here.

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)
Orpheus and Eurydice (ca. 1508–12)

Giovanni Bellini
Pietà with the Virgin and Saint John (ca. 1455–60)

Lorenzo Lotto
Portrait of Lucina Brembati (1518–23)

Giovanni Battista Moroni
Portrait of a Twenty-Nine-Year-Old Man (1567)

Giovanni Cariani (Giovanni Busi)
Giovanni Benedetto Caravaggi (1517–20)

Bergognone (Ambrogio di Stefano da Fossano)
Madonna and Child (Madonna del Latte) (ca. 1485)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Atlàntida and Carmina Burana with the New York Philharmonic

FALLA Selections from Atlàntida Scenic Cantata (1926-46)
ORFF Carmina burana (1937)

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos,  Conductor
Erin Morley,  Soprano
Emalie Savoy,  Soprano
Nicholas Phan,  Tenor
Jacques Imbrailo,  Baritone
Orfeón Pamplonés,  Chorus
Igor Ijurra Fernández,  Director
Brooklyn Youth Chorus,  Chorus
Dianne Berkun,  Chorus Director

Last Friday, the New York Philharmonic presented two massive choral works.

The orchestra performed Manuel de Falla's Atlàntida for the first time. I wasn't sure what to think of it. The composer conceived of an ambitious opera about the birth of Spain but had only completed sections of it when he died in 1946. The excerpts presented were from Falla's original score, impressive sounding but (not surprisingly) lacking in narrative structure. Orfeón Pamplonés,  the Spanish chorus, Savoy, and Imbrailo did sound wonderful and the orchestra under de Burgos performed with nationalistic fervor.

Carl Orff's Carmina burana isn't a subtle piece: the melodies are simple, the libretto is a bit crude, and the rhythms are heavy handed. But it's a crowd pleaser and the orchestra and both choruses seemed to be having a great time performing the work. Lovely solos from Morley and Imbralio, and Phan was delightful as the roasting swan.

During the intermission, right by the doors of the Orchestra section, I noticed portraits of the Philharmonic musicians by Thomas Mitz. The paintings are quite enchanting. Check them out next time you're in Avery Fisher Hall.