Philip Glass Comes, Finally, to the New York Philharmonic

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lennygoran
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Philip Glass Comes, Finally, to the New York Philharmonic

Post by lennygoran » Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:17 pm

Review: Philip Glass Comes, Finally, to the New York Philharmonic Regards, Len

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI SEPT. 24, 2017


Jaap van Zweden, the New York Philharmonic’s incoming music director, doesn’t officially start until next year. But he seized the occasion of his first opening night with his new orchestra to make a statement.

Rather than opting for a traditional opening program of lighter fare, on Tuesday he conducted Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, one of the most dense and challenging in the repertory. Leading this 70-minute score with technical command and bristling intensity, he repeated it on Friday, now paired with Philip Glass’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra — incredibly, the Philharmonic’s first performance of a concert work by this pioneer of Minimalism.

It was revealing to hear Mr. van Zweden’s Mahler performance twice over a few days. And I have much respect for what he achieved. The playing he drew from the orchestra was incisive and lucid. During whole episodes of this fraught symphony, especially the discursive, wild-eyed Rondo-Finale, it can be hard to follow what’s going on. Mr. van Zweden excelled at making the music’s structural elements — what leads to what — clear.

The Philharmonic chose Mr. van Zweden to replace Alan Gilbert, whose tenure ended this spring, at least in part because of his reputation for delivering big-deal performances of the major repertory works. Yet he has a tendency to push the dramatic elements of a piece to extremes and to exaggerate contrasts, as he did here. Mahler indicates that the first movement, a funeral march, should be played with measured step — strict, like a cortège. Mr. van Zweden maintained solemnity and a steady pace, never indulging in emotive tweaks. Still, there is a fine line between strict and rigid, and this opening section seemed reined in, with little give, even ponderous at times.


Also, some of the playing was too loud, blaring and brassy. Mahler writes that the second movement should be performed with the greatest vehemence. Mr. van Zweden took the composer at his word, and the results were sometimes overbearing.


In the sublime slow movement, the pensive Adagietto, Mr. van Zweden did not allow a trace of sentimentality. The tempo was slow, but flowing; the phrasing sensitive, yet shapely. But I wanted more depth and sadness. In the performances that have most moved me, there was a sense that this music could hardly bear to expose itself. There was little of that quality here.

With these performances of the Glass concerto, featuring the splendid pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque as soloists, Mr. van Zweden has filled a gaping hole in the Philharmonic’s history. Overlooking Mr. Glass’s work had to have been a deliberate choice by a succession of music directors, because, love him or hate him, he has been an influential figure in contemporary classical music for some 40 years.

And this 27-minute concerto in three movements, which had its premiere in 2015 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is inventive and unusual. The orchestra starts off abuzz with rippling, subdued riffs. Almost immediately the pianos, backed by various instruments, play a slippery theme in chords that dip and rise almost step by step.

The music is fidgety and full of harmonic shifts, run through with two-against-three rhythms. There’s a mellow, jazzy quality at play: Imagine Gershwin as a Minimalist.


Most concertos have combative passages between the soloist and orchestra. Not this one. The pianists and orchestra are like allies, and that quality persists in the darker second movement, which has long stretches in which two-note motifs keep oscillating and you can’t decide whether the mood is soothing or ominous. The pianists, like trusted guides, take the orchestra (and listeners) through a pulsing thicket of music.

There are moments when what sounds like an echo of that slippery opening theme emerges: The pianos try to catch hold of the tune and pin it down. Mr. Glass ends his concerto with a wistful slow movement. Recurring figures in triplets hover in the pianos, while a sighing, spare melody floats above in bare octaves.

The piano parts, though not showy, are detailed and difficult. The Labèque sisters played a scintillating and elegant performance, and Mr. van Zweden nicely conveyed the mix of sassiness and delicacy in the music.

It was an important night for Mr. Glass, and for the Philharmonic, and an encouraging signal from Mr. van Zweden, not generally known for contemporary music, that he won’t stint it during his tenure. But we’ll learn much more about his artistic goals early next year, when he announces the programming for his first season.

It will be interesting, too, to see how the Philharmonic’s 106 “all-stars,” as the orchestra billed its members on Tuesday — complete with packs of musician trading cards in the programs — work with him over time. What was clear this week was that Mr. van Zweden, with his kinetic physical movements and emphatic cues, certainly takes an old-school, top-down approach to conducting.



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/arts ... collection

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