The New York Philharmonic
Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass., July
Sunday afternoon, you fought to get in and out of the Tanglewood
parking lots. Sunday evening, you pretty much had the place
to yourself. That’s because it was Beethoven during the day,
new music at night.
More to the point, Sunday afternoon’s concert was music director
Kurt Masur’s absolutely last, final, that’s-it performance
conducting the New York Philharmonic, and his two Tanglewood
concerts (Saturday night was the other) were a lovefest of
basic rep pieces played with all the splendor and bombast
the crew could muster.
The good old symphonies are safe orchestral ground, and Masur
couldn’t have picked two more dynamic works than Mahler’s
First and Beethoven’s Third. The Mahler, performed
Saturday night, is a bear hug of a work, going nuts for nature
in the first movement, singing a merry peasant dance in the
second, sounding a bizarre funeral knell to a minor-key version
of Frère Jacques in the third, and finishing with a
thunderclap and one of the more roof- rattling finales in
Great stuff, and a heaping plate of meat and potatoes for
Masur and the orchestra (which, years ago, had Mahler at its
helm). The piece was nuanced to a fare-thee-well, each waltz
strain imbued with just the right rubato, each bird call sounding
Beethoven’s Third Symphony, subtitled the Eroica,
is another Big Work, and one that changed the symphonic language.
It sounds pretty tame these days, but Masur informed it with
the right sense of wit and dramatics to remind us why it was
once so controversial.
Wit is a Beethoven hallmark, and his Emperor Concerto,
for piano and orchestra, has a number of sly grins behind
its magisterial themework. Soloist Yefim Bronfman has a sure-fingered,
virile technique, but he seemed to think he was in a Rachmaninoff
concerto, and simply banged the hell out of the keyboard.
Did he rehearse with the orchestra? He finished phrases oddly
out of sync with them, and Masur, at least, tends to be more
careful than that.
By contrast, New York Philharmonic first-chair violinist Glenn
Dicterow and cellist Carter Brey were right on the money in
the Brahms Double Concerto. They brought out all the
Gypsy fun of the work, with an orchestra that couldn’t have
been more sympathetic.
Students and faculty at the Tanglewood Music Center presented
the first of six concerts devoted to American music written
in the past 15 years, an ambitious and absolutely necessary
undertaking. Orchestral works by Frank Zappa and John Adams
bracketed the program: Zappa’s fiendishly difficult G-Spot
Tornado, written for Synclavier and later arranged for
orchestra, is a rollicking, jazzy dance that suffered only
from some muddiness in the instrumental mix. Adams’ Chamber
Symphony takes itself much more seriously; while less
annoyingly minimalist than much of Adams’ other work, it still
at times sounds dense for the sake of sounding dense.
Two movements from Evan Chambers’s Cold Water, Dry Stone
paid tribute to the composer’s 1995 trip to Albania and
evokes an Eastern feel in its impressionist use of a small,
marimba-enriched chamber ensemble. Wispy, mesmerizing themes
developed and evanesced, rendered with heart and precision
by the ensemble. Similarly, virtuosity was the watchword for
cellist Mickey Katz and violinist Caroline Pliszka in Leon
Kirchner’s brooding, difficult Triptych.
The soul of the concert was four song settings by William
Bolcom. “Twilight: After Haying” and “The Clearing” are both
pastoral texts with an undercurrent of loss by Jane Kenyon,
sung with ease and charm by tenor John McMunn, about and from
whom I expect we’ll hear more in years to come. Marianne Moore’s
“Oh to Be a Dragon” reminded us of Bolcom’s terrific humor,
well served by McMunn and pianist Alison D’Amato. Eric Shaw
was the tenor for “September 1, 1939,” a setting of Auden,
and the politically polemic cry for resistance against authority
rings ever more true today. The setting was spare, the words
cut like razors, and we were reminded how necessary is a mix
of music like this.