New York Philharmonic: Avery Fisher Hall 14 June 2012

My friend Joe and I were back at Lincoln Center to see the New York Philharmonic and listen to Beethoven. We also heard pieces by Erich Korngold and Carl Nielsen.

Before the show I attended a pre-concert talk given by violinist Dr. David Wallace in a small room in Avery Fisher Hall. Wallace said we were in for a treat because Beethoven is a favorite of conductor Alan Gilbert, who conducts the notes to be played as written and he loves to pair Beethoven with Nielsen.

The lecture was sold out so Joe couldn’t attend but we met up in the third tier box. We had the first two seats in the first box. The site had said obstructed view but I thought that meant that some of the musicians on stage left wouldn’t be easily seen. I’d forgotten about the baffles on the wall, which made it a truly obstructed view. We couldn’t see most of the basses, woodwinds, or horns that were upstage center to stage left. The sound was terrific though and the view was even better. We were looking right down onto downstage and I could see the violins and violas below me and, even better, I could see Gilbert’s conducting as if I were on the stage. He is so emotive – his entire body conducts.

The first piece was Beethoven’s “Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62,” which he wrote after seeing Henrich Joseph von Collin’s Coriolan not Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. However, Wallace told us that Beethoven loved Shakespeare and would have been influenced by that version also when writing this overture. When Beethoven saw the play they were using pieces of music from one of Mozart’s operas. Unfortunately the play didn’t last very long and Beethoven’s overture was only performed once with the play. But it is a favorite concert piece and in only eight minutes you get a chance to feel and imagine the entire story of the Roman General Coriolan – from his arrogance to the pleading of the women in his life to his death.

Gilbert conducted the entire piece without the score in front of him.

The score was brought out for Korngold’s “Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 35.” Korngold was a child prodigy, who left Austria in the mid-1930s for Hollywood and being Jewish decided not to return. His father was disappointed that Korngold was squandering his gift in Hollywood. Korngold decided to write a violin concerto for Jascha Heifetz because with Heifetz you got both Caruso and Pagnini. Wallace played us some pieces that Heifetz had recorded for The Little Rascals — his playing is perfect for the lyrical and then very fast music used for those films. In Korngold’s Violin Concerto you can hear some of the music he composed for film so the music is very cinematic. Wallace should use that when playing a scale in Hollywood they use a higher note for the third note – you’ll hear that in a lot of film scores and we heard it in the Violin Concerto.

Soloing on violin was Leonidas Kavakos, who Wallace described as the violinist’s violinist. He was amazing going from the lyrical to the very fast. And he was quite a sight in front of the orchestra – his shoulder length hair and glasses made him look like your nerdy violinist cousin while his patterned silk purple shirt, purple pants, and shiny purple shoes made him look like one Wild and Crazy Guy.

At one point the violin is muted – Wallace showed us the leather or metal mutes that are put over the bridge and how it changes the tone. Kavakos did it so seamlessly that I didn’t realize he’d put the mute on until he played and I heard the change in tone.

After intermission there was a short ceremony honoring people who were retiring from the orchestra – some after over 30 years.

Then we heard Denmark’s famous composer Nielsen’s “Symphony No. 3, Sinfonia espansiva, Op. 27.” It is a very lyrical piece and I could see why Gilbert chose to put these three pieces together. The second movement is Allegro pastorale and that is the perfect description. The second half of that movement was supposed to have two singers singing about thoughts disappearing while looking at the sky. But Nielsen took out the words and had the singers just “aaaahhh” the melody instead and the result is even more pastoral. Erin Morley and Joshua Hopkins did a wonderful job. As did the woodwinds in this piece – they are as important as the strings.

What a gift to have an orchestra like this in my city.

By Carene Lydia Lopez