Plus Alan Gilbert's first season as NY Phil director and an unlikely critic
We’re driving back to the city after a hot and humid weekend up at the house. Really strange weather today, with a few huge downpours, but some brisk winds in the late afternoon swept in some cooler air. When we left tonight it actually felt (and looked) more like an autumn evening. Right now, the sky above the Taconic Parkway (pictured here) is laced with pink and cobalt blue clouds and it’s breathtaking to look at (clearly I have a thing for clouds). Brian is behind the wheel and we’re listening to some of my favorite driving music: John Adams’ Grand Pianola music. I remember playing this piece in a car as we drove up the mountain passes on a trip to the canyons in Utah, and the combination of this hypnotic music and the winding roads made us both so dizzy that we had to turn it off.
I’ve been feeling guilty about not keeping my Gramophone blog up to date, but work has kept me exceedingly busy. Nice of Brian to drive tonight so I could jot down a few thoughts.
The season sure has passed by quickly and it’s hard to believe Alan Gilbert (a client of our company, 21C Media Group) only has three more weeks left to his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic. He’s riding high at the moment because one of the signature events of his inaugural season – a staged production of Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre – was an enormous success, with three sold-out performances and unanimous critical acclaim (the New York Times called it an “instant Philharmonic milestone”). Last season, one of my favorite Philharmonic events was Alan’s performance with Christian Tetzlaff of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, and Alan’s performances of the composer’s Atmospheres with the Juilliard Orchestra in April was another major highlight of this season for me: I guess I fully have the Ligeti bug now.
It’s been fun hearing lots of people talk about the “new” New York Philharmonic. Some of the orchestra’s subscribers might not like some of the “riskier” works Alan has programmed, but I think that the kind of diversity Alan has brought to the orchestra’s programming can only mean a healthier and more diverse audience for the Philharmonic in the future. Over the next couple of weeks Alan and the orchestra will do Brahms’s Second Symphony (which, to my amazement, I’ve never heard live), a programme of Mozart, Wagner and HK Gruber, two works by Magnus Lindberg (including a world-premiere), and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. In July he and the Philharmonic will play an all-Varèse concert at the Lincoln Center Festival. Pretty amazing mix of stuff, in my humble and not entirely objective opinion!
Returning to the subject of guilt, I’m really sorry I won’t be in San Francisco tomorrow for Deborah Voigt’s role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s Fanciulla Del West (Debbie is also a client of our company). I can’t remember the last time Debbie was so enamored with a new role – she really relates to the character, whom she calls “a good girl who still knows how to run a bar and shoot a gun” – and thankfully I’ll be able to hear her do it in December at the Metropolitan Opera, which will mount a production celebrating the 100th anniversary of its world premiere there. Debbie cracked me up the other day with a Facebook note saying that the horse she rides in the third act left a little souvenir on the stage of the SF Opera during rehearsal. “Everyone’s a critic!” she joked in her status update.
It’s getting dark out now and the pianist on the recording is playing those big blocks of chords in that rocking hymn that comes towards the end of Grand Pianola. Now the voices are joining in the building climax, and the brass are snarling and biting into the mix. Like so much of Adams’ music it’s all very uplifting and exuberant and more than a little bit strange, and careening down the Taconic – a road that is infamous for its nerve-wracking twists and turns – I’m hoping that Brian’s synapses aren’t getting nearly as stimulated as mine are.