|Concertmaster Ashley Jeehyun Park, Maestro David Robertson, and pianist Tomer Gewirtzman|
Last night, the esteemed Juilliard Orchestra took the stage of Carnegie Hall and did honor to both Juilliard and to the renowned New York City landmark. We felt as if we were hearing the orchestra for the first time. The sonic landscape took shape before our very eyes, or should we say, ears.
Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, known as The New World Symphony, is one of our favorite symphonies, one we have heard countless times. Last night, we appreciated it anew as the incredibly talented Juilliard musicians brought an intense sense of drama to the work, under the baton of Maestro David Robertson.
We understand that Maestro Robertson will become the Director of Conducting Studies at Juilliard and, judging by the way the members of the orchestra responded to him, he is a splendid choice. His style is highly energetic, and at times he wielded the baton like an épée, thrusting it at various sections of the orchestra.
This produced a clarity that brought new understanding of Dvorák's melodic and rhythmic gifts. Although every program note we have ever read claims the use of Afro-American and Native American melodic material, what we heard struck us as significantly nationalistic-- Bohemian, not American.
There was a sense of unity to the work with Bohemian melodies weaving in and out, modified rhythmically, dynamically, tonally, and harmonically. We danced our way out the door, humming the memorable melodies. For us, this signifies a major musical success.
The 9th symphony was written, along with several other fine pieces, upon the composer's arrival in New York City in the waning decade of the 19th c. when he assumed the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music.
He lived on 17th Street, just west of First Avenue. We know this because we lived in hospital housing just next door and were invited inside by the man who lived there at that time who saw us reading the brass plaque outside. Sadly, Beth Israel Hospital had the building demolished to suit their expansion. The campaign to "save Dvorák's House" failed. We wept.
The work begins with a gentle introduction which bursts into a muscular explosion of sound, with plenty of rumbling in the lower end of the register. And then, one glorious melody after another comes tumbling out, bounding from one section of the orchestra to another in endless variations.
The Largo begins in solemnity with mournful themes and plenty of action in the brasses. We somehow felt the expansion of the universe. We heard the night fall. We loved the pizzicati from the basses. We needed the quiet pauses to catch our breath.
There was nothing funny about the Scherzo, just a salad of motifs picked up from the profusion of melodic invention, played with insistent rhythm.
The final movement introduced a powerful martial theme, leading to a raucous dance that held us in suspense. Of course, everyone has their own response to music; we are only sharing ours.
The program also included the devilishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 by Béla Bartók, performed by the much honored Tomer Gewirtzman who is studying for his Artist Diploma at Juilliard but is already famous and sought after worldwide.
This was Bartók's final composition which he almost finished on his deathbed. It was actually finished by his pupil. This story was more interesting to us than the music which challenged our 19th c. ears. Whatever pleasure we found, other than admiring Mr. Gewirtzman's virtuosity, came from the middle movement which was somewhat less dense and allowed us to appreciate some of the nature sounds that were incorporated. Birdcalls were heard from the flutes, and Mr. Gewirtzman's piano demonstrated some lovely rippling figures.
As program opener, we heard Three Places in New England by Charles Ives, a contemporary of Bartók. This is purported to be "programmatic" but nothing we heard produced the visual imagery we enjoyed in the Dvorák. It was interesting to read about the original piece of music and how it was expanded for full orchestra from its original arrangement for chamber orchestra. But again, our ears were not dancing with glee.
We might add that our companion was very satisfied with the two 20th c. works, as was the rest of the audience. We reserve our appreciation for works with melody, just as we do in vocal music.
(c) meche kroop