Thursday, March 27, 2014

NY Philharmonic Note

Followup on two nights at Avery Fisher Hall, both in almost the identical seats, up in the nosebleed section, where the view is magnificent and where the acoustics, you might think, are pretty good. And perhaps they are, but here's the thing.  Some familiar pieces (Gershwin's Concerto in F, Beethoven's Eroica) sounded like they never sounded before.  Was it us, or the conducting, or does something get lost in the baffles?  Especially the brass.   Lots of brass in both items and that is fine, but it seemed a bit muddy, undisciplined.

Details: first night was Jeffrey Kahane doing a 20th-Century program with Ravel, Weill  and Greshwin.  He conducted from a grand piano that faced the audience, its sounding board looking like nothing so much as a map of Nevada.  I read the Weill hasn't been done here since 1934.  I'm a huge Weill fan but I think maybe there's a reason.    Or maybe I could get mymind around it on repeated listenings.  The Gershwin was, as I say, strange and I'm genuinely baffled as to whether it is just me or something about, well, perhaps the baffles.  The Ravel, FWIW, came across just fine.

Second night was Joshua Bell, conducting (when he could sit still) from the position of first-chair fiddle.  His instrument was an ear-catching Strad, except that his real instrument was the orchestra of St. Martin in the Fields,he which played with loving attention.  This troupe should be used to the terms of engagement and to him, and for the strings, at least, I'd say they were: they seemed to engage and accomodate each other with no excess of effort.  With the brass, again, I'm not so sure.  It might have been where I was sitting, but here is another possibility: I wonder if they could see him.  Though the stsge was built up on stair-steps, still it seemed as if perhaps they had to guess some of the time as to just what they wanted and when.

Oh, and one real blessing: this orchestra is small, which was refreshing for the Beethoven, but he also did the Brahms violin concerto and for the Brahms, it was s revelation.  Evidently Brahms, swimming against the tide of his time (think Bruckner, Mahler) really wanted a small orchestra and I'm not sure I ever heard him that way before.  Or whatever.  Brahms had it right and I'm grateful to Bell for showing how it could be done.


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