Monday, September 24, 2012

Opening Night at the New York Philharmonic

(photo courtesy of The New York Times)

Alan Gilbert - Conductor
Leif Ove Andsnes - Piano

GYÖRGY KURTÁG -  ... quasi una fantasia ... Op. 27, No. 1 (1987–88)
BEETHOVEN - Piano Concerto No. 3 (1803)
STRAVINSKY - Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) (1911-13)

Last Wednesday the New York Philharmonic opened its season with a program featuring works by Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Hungarian composer György Kurtág.

Kurtág wrote  ... quasi una fantasia ... as an homage to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. On my first hearing, I didn't quite get the melodic connection though the atmosphere was similarly haunting, with a surreal and ghostly atonality pervading the work.

The 10 minute piece was an extension of the surround sound theme of the Philharmonic 360 series last June (which I missed unfortunately). The piano and timpani were located onstage; the vibraphone, marimba, cimbalom, and percussion in the rear orchestra; the harp and celeste in the first tier, and the strings, winds and brass in the third tier. It was certainly novel and very interesting but the size of the Avery Fisher Hall pretty much guaranteed a dynamic imbalance for most of the audience, especially for those who were seated next to one of the groups of instruments (like me).

I've always thought of Andsnes as a cerebral rather than an overtly emotional pianist and so it was interesting to hear him in Beethoven's third piano concerto, which admittedly seems more Mozartean than the composer's unabashedly Romantic later works. Andsnes brought his formidable technique into play especially in the first cadenza where he deployed the most brilliant runs and arpeggios I've ever heard in a live performance. His Largo was noble and profound, and the third movement was just exhiblirating. A wonderful performance indeed.

The Rite of Spring may no longer seem so shocking nowadays but it's still a riveting orchestral piece. Gilbert conducted the score with great polish and incisiveness, perhaps underplaying the raw expressionism a bit, but still full of dramatic splendor even without the original ballet.

The program was broadcasted live on WQXR and you can still listen to the recording here. The best thing about the concert? I got an orchestra seat with my student discount - for $13.50. The Philharmonic could very well turn into a weekly habit for me. I'm certainly looking forward to the rest of the season.


  1. Thanks for this review. I listened to the broadcast. I thought Gilbert handled The Rite of Spring very well. Of course, conducting Stravinsky is no easy task. You are correct that the "scandal" of Rite is a thing of the past, but the bassoon gets me every time. Still a thrilling, savage piece.

    Great season of arts and culture ahead in our city!


  2. Yes indeed I'm looking forward to my next performance on Saturday night!