Friday, April 01, 2011

A vibrato that can cut steel!

Got to NY yesterday morning, after about 20 hours of travel, rushed about all day, and at night rushed into my first NY concert, that of Anne-Sophie Mutter, the New York Philharmonic and Michael Tilson-Thomas, no less!

What can you say to people like this? It's very hard....

The concert started with Prokofiev's Overture on American Themes, played by a much reduced NY Philharmonic orchestra; one cello, two harps, two double basses, a few strings, percussion, celesta, two pianos etc. I wonder what made him write for such a combination. The music was quite American, but the themes were not that well-known to me. Structure was fast, slow, fast. It was quite a fun piece!

Then Ms Mutter appeared, with an enlarged orchestra, to play Gubaidulina's 'In tempus praesens' - a NY premiere. Also essentially a piece in the same structure, with a cadenza - so fairly conventional in form. Ms Mutter, in the mermaid-style shoulder-free dress of which she always wears her concert outfits (very well), opened with such a strong vibrato that I wondered if Ms Gubaidulina had written this expressly in the score. Her sound could have cut steel, and certainly arrived well at the end of the hall! It reminded me of some concerts recently where I had said that the soloists did not get well above the orchestra (and I had blamed it on not having my hearing aid in). This time I suspect even without my artificial support I would not have written that I couldn't hear her! The piece was very interesting, though not of a whistle-able type, and the somewhat sparse applause at the end of it showed the audience's puzzle with it. Essentially it was a variety on the theme of 'scales' - covering the violin from low G to 'stratospheric', but wow, what a sound production! The strings were a bit thin in numbers, and I realised only later that it does not seem to contain violins - the orchestra was lead by the violists! (Is it Schnittke's viola concerto that is organised like this, too?). There was much percussion, as the often the case with contemporary East European music. The first two movements were quite atmospheric, and not all that virtuosic - the last movement, supported by a very rhythmic insertion of, mmm, heavy beats, made up for this. It was an awesome performance - I just wonder about that very heavy vibrato, and wondered how Bashmet might have played it, had he played violin.

Finally it was, I assume, the full NY Phil band, with Tchaikovsky's second symphony. It was interesting to see how many Asian faces it contained - does it reflect the NY population proportions, I wondered? But such an orchestra gets the best players from anywhere. I thought that I had not heard this symphony before, but later recognised quite a few places in it. It opens with a terrifying horn solo - at least with this orchestra you don't have to be at the edge of the seat, wondering if the hornist will make it. It is a bit unusual in that it does not contain a slow, contemplative movement, but skips along from the beginning to the end. I also wondered what it would be like to set a ballet to it. There were flavours of Swan Lake, and the last movement reminded me strongly of Mussorgsky's Pictures of an Exhibition, particularly the Greate Gates of Kiev. It was an awesome performance, and I liked the way the first and second violins were sitting opposite each other - that really worked very well. Tilson-Thomas seems to be a very precise conductor - it would be difficult not to know which beat you are on (unlike with many other famous conductors), and he really brought out the dance and joy in this music.

Very interesting applause - it started while the orchestra was still finishing the last note. A couple of people jumped up for a standing ovation; in time others did, too, but mostly in order to put on their coats; there is no place to leave coats in this concert hall. So orchestras, conductors and soloists should not let a standing audience go to their heads, unless it's in the middle of the concert....