Such delicacy in the large orchestra which, incidentally, had two harps in the Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, and was then chamber-sized for the Carl Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, beautifully performed by the NY Phil’s Anthony McGill in this January’s New York Philharmonic concert. It has fiendishly difficult cadenzas, and I’ve just only “played at it,” His playing was exquisite, delicate, very straight, and more like a clarinet solo emerging from the orchestra’s wind section than a front-and-center concerto style. Though I’d never heard a live performance of it before, I hear the concerto in a more raucous style than McGill’s Mozartian sound. Nevertheless his is a valid interpretation and Nielsen is a refreshing composer—one without rhetoric who found a way of threading through 19th century symphony style into 20th century modernism, while holding on to poignant, sometimes witty, always expressive sound. Often this concerto shaped itself into treble-bass two-part counterpoint with occasional hectic fast figuration in the strings which became a texture within that frame. Shifting harmonic implications. A satisfying piece!
Delicacy was again the quality, in the Tchaikovsky suite from Swan Lake. The solo violin and harp movement, the violin and cello and harp movement, for example. Then, unexpectedly the full orchestra tutti brass-laced chords. What a sudden voluptuous, extravagant sound!… Thrilled.
The “future of the orchestra,” my concern. Ever since I started playing and listening to Indonesian gamelan music, a “national” music, I’ve reflected on our own, Western “gamelan”—the symphony orchestra, suddenly valuing it more because it is a unique sound in world music: nothing else like it. I wonder about its ability to negotiate the poly-stylistics of all the music around us which competes for our attention, and especially that of young people. Everything is “niched.” But symphony is not low-overhead, unlike gamelan, punk bands, or myself!… Also gamelan can use relatively inexperienced, or untrained musicians who can count. Only amateur choruses can do that with professional orchestras. Think symphony and then think doctor’s and lawyer’s training. And think ticket prices. Third tier, row DD was $55 and the back wall was just behind me. Binoculars were glued to my face because I like to watch orchestration. [Clear throat: Ahem.] Binoculars were glued to my face, but not only because I like to “watch” the orchestration. I couldn’t tell without them where the second violins and violas were placed. I’m not sure even now. I was “living to the back.” (Talk to your Jewish ancestors or friends about this phrase).
Though Ravel and Nielsen are firmly 20th century composers, their roots were in the 19th, and the 19th century is still the basis of the symphony orchestra’s repertoire. The kaleidoscopic variety of sound, even its wonderful excess come from that century. What of the future? The Flexible Orchestra is my commentary on the symphony orchestra, and my attempt to secure its future by trying different palettes, all firmly orchestral. But more will have to be done, imaginatively done, I suspect. And composers will have to do it. With some help. Think: copyist, parts editing, revision and recording. Think arts and market capitalism. I did. I am.
Thumbnail Review #43