We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Mirga Gražintyé-Tyla and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner with the Juilliard Orchestra

What a dazzling manner in which to begin the new season! This may be the first time we enjoyed an evening of symphonic music from the opening note to the final chord. There was not a single longueur. 

To begin with, it was a special thrill to see a woman on the podium--a feeling we get when Eve Queler wields her baton. But Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražintyé-Tyla is only 30 years old and has already achieved fame through her prodigious talent and her unique style on the podium-- which possibly reflects her association with firebrand Gustavo Dudamel.

It's unfortunate that the New York Philharmonic lets exciting conductors slip through its fingers but Juilliard did not, more credit to them. This young woman is fun to watch. She has the petite form, lithe athleticism, and soft arms of a ballerina. The envy of the old biddies next to me was so green that they could have worn it on St. Paddy's Day--what with their criticism of her bare arms.

But those bare arms bore watching as her grace, her flexible wrists, and seemingly boneless arms gently coaxed the young musicians into making the finest music we have heard in a very long time.  When the music called for emphasis, the bones reappeared as she pointed precisely and jabbed angularly.

That being said, the proof of the musical pudding is in the sound and we got the impression that she formed a great relationship with the musicians who played as if their lives hung in the balance. Such gusto!  Such involvement!  Major WOW!

The program was wisely chosen.  The opener was a piece entitled "Fire" by the conductor's countrywoman Raminta Šerkšnyté, and a most accomplished piece it was. It was commissioned by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 2012 in Munich.  It was meant to be inspired by and played alongside Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

The program notes were rather academic and went over our head but the music did not.  Some people like to think about music but we like to experience it emotionally. The opening movement, marked "Misterioso" succeeded at creating an air of mystery through some growling percussion and the lower voices of the winds. The mood soon shifted and it became obvious that the piece favored texture over melody.

The second section, marked "Con brio", shifted the mood entirely and the orchestra erupted into an explosion of sound.  It wasn't until the closing bars that we caught the hommage to Beethoven's Fifth in its fate theme.  The audience's applause erupted similarly. It was a piece of startling originality and color. The composer had to be coaxed to come out and enjoy the accolades.

The second selection involved an exceptionally artistic performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto #3 in C minor, Op. 37 by the wildly talented Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner.  Only 19 years old, this prize-winning prodigy is in his second year of the Master of Music program at Juilliard and seems headed for greatness.

The three movement concerto seemed to reflect Beethoven's admiration for Mozart. The first movement, marked "Allegro con brio", established the key immediately with arpeggiated figures and allowed Mr. Sanchez-Werner to dazzle us with trills and scale passages; the second lyrical theme involved melodic elements that seemed to want to belong in an opera that Mozart might have written.

The second movement, marked "Largo", was one of ineffable loveliness and seemed introspective. The "Rondo Allegro" offered a cheeriness and a welcome familiarity as the theme recurred with freshness.

The work was well chosen in that it allowed Mr. Sanchez-Werner to show off his technique in the lively passages and his lyricism in the slow sections.

The final work on the program was Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. The opening movement featured ascending and descending scales in the violins that showcased the string section's tight collaboration.

Our favorite movement was the second "Un bal" which gave the harps a lovely theme. The third movement was very special with an offstage oboe answering the call of the one onstage and a finale giving the percussionists a real workout.   The wild final two movements gave full rein to emotionality.

Standing ovations greeted the artists as Maestro Gražintyé-Werner strolled around the orchestra, honoring each section.  Honors belong to everyone onstage. This performance is one we will not forget.

(c) meche kroop

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