Monday, July 21, 2014

NY Phil in Vail

Photo from earlier this year with the Dallas Symphony

Rachel and I made our annual trip to Vail to see the NY Phil at the Bravo Vail music festival. This year is a little more difficult for me as it brings up some memories. Last year while we were at the festival, I awoke one morning to find a message that my stepmother Pat had died. (We are now only a few days shy or the anniversary.) I decided to go to the chamber concert that was playing across the street from where we were staying, and they happened to be playing the Barber Adagio for Strings. (Review here.)

This year our first concert was the first that the NY Phil had played since the death of their previous conductor Lorin Maazel. Conductor Alan Gilbert opened the concert (after the "Star-Spangled Banner") with an unscheduled memorial reading of the Barber Adagio, which brought back a lot of memories.

That concert was on the 18th. In addition to being my sister's birthday, the 18th was usually a day we would plan on being in Michigan for my wife's grandmother's birthday. Last year she celebrated her 100th birthday, but she then passed away in January. So the date, and the Adagio, brought back memories of two loved ones that we have lost over the last year.

We had planned on being in Vail on the 18th because we really wanted to see the NY Phil, and in years past it has been difficult to get here with the travel to Michigan. This year we wanted to be sure to be here to see the concert with Midori which had been scheduled for the 18th. Unfortunately, she is pregnant and her doctors advised against late-term travel for her. This required a program change. Instead of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, we got Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto played by Yefim Bronfman. A bit of a letdown, but a good concert nonetheless. Bronfman played well, but a little more sloppily than one might expect from him. He had already agreed to play the First and Fifth Concerti the next night, so I'm sure he had his hands full rehearsing.

The highlight of the Friday concert was an excellent read of Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. I've never seen Gilbert conduct in person before, but I really liked him. He is not as flamboyant as some conductors at his level, but he gets a great performance out of the orchestra.

Saturday's concert was all Beethoven. The Overture to Fidelio opened the concert. As a trumpet player, I'm more fond of the other Leonore Overtures.  This was followed by the two piano concerti. The First Concerto is not the most interesting work by Beethoven, with the exception of the lengthy cadenza. Finishing the concert with the Emperor Concerto was a smart move, yet at the same time, the orchestra looked a bit bored playing so much Beethoven over two nights. They looked a lot more alive on Sunday night. Bronfman really brought it for the Fifth, though, and it was a nice finish to the evening.

Sunday the orchestra played one of the most difficult concerts I have ever seen and it reminded me why the NY Phil is the NY Phil. Very few conductors would have opened a concert with not one but TWO of the most difficult orchestral showpieces in the repertoire, Strauss's Don Juan followed immediately by Till Eulenspiegel. The horn section must hate Gilbert for putting these two back to back. The orchestra played extremely well, especially on Till Eulenspiegel.

This was followed by the Oboe Concerto of Christopher Rouse. I was extremely impressed with this work. It is very modern, but it is also much more listenable than a lot of contemporary works. There seemed to be jazz influence not only in the orchestration (harmon mutes featured in the trumpets) but also in the harmonic structure of the opening chord, which is a recurring harmonic structure in the piece. I liked it a lot. The soloist, Liang Wang, had a beautiful tone quality, and certainly knew how to make it look like a difficult piece. Phrases were all very long, and I had wondered if he were using circular breathing to complete some of them, but it was difficult to tell. He did look close to passing out a couple of times.

Sunday's program ended with a fantastic reading of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture. This performance reminded me of why we come to their concerts. They were fantastic, and it was obvious that the orchestra was having a great time playing the piece. As an encore, they performed Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla Overture, another orchestral showpiece, resulting in one hell of a program for the night!

We will be seeing one more concert at the Bravo Vail festival, but not the NY Phil, it will be a chamber concert featuring works by Bartok and S. Reich, both of which I am excited to see.

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