Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faun
Sibelius: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, Op. 47 - Joshua Bell
My first foray in New York City since last spring, Friday, October 8, 2010, has become quite a personal milestone for me with an exciting, successful job interview, a bitter-sweet but ultimately comforting ash-scattering mission all over the city and, to top it all off, my first New York Philharmonic concert of the season. I had to miss Itzhak Perlman and the Mendelssohn violin concerto two weeks ago, there was no way I was going to miss Joshua Bell and the Sibelius violin concerto that evening, damn it! Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faun is a work that I would go hear anytime anywhere and Lindberg's Kraft was going to be the I-am-not-afraid-of-contemporary-music component of the evening, so the whole program seemed ideal to wrap up this non-stop busy, impeccably gorgeous fall day with some untraditional but riveting sounds.
Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faun, which delicately plays with notes in a non-continuous but absolutely exquisite way, has always resonated with me much more intensely than the poem by Mallarmé that was the source of its inspiration. And Friday night was no exception as all the different instruments in the orchestra were distinctively highlighting their own intrinsic qualities while at the same time coming all together for an ethereally impressionistic, subtly atmospheric tapestry of sounds.
Speaking of atmospheric music, on a grand scale this time, Sibelius’ violin concerto has also been a long-time favorite of mine and an endless source of frustration as well because I do not get to hear it live very often. Of course, even as a non-musician I can easily tell that the main reason for its scant appearance on concert programs is that it is not just a tough one, it is a very tough one. That was Sibelius' only concerto and he obviously went all out for it. So needless to say I was overjoyed at the prospect of hearing Joshua Bell perform it live with the New York Philharmonic. Playing his recording of it to death is one thing, but getting to hear the real thing was for sure going to bring the whole experience on a different level. Sibelius’ icy, lean but still deeply emotional concerto has always evoked to me an epic journey into stark landscapes, one that is relentlessly driven by an ever-changing but unstoppable pulse. Taking full control of the wildly difficult ride, Joshua Bell assuredly brought warmth and grandeur to a seemingly brooding piece, especially in the Adagio, which dramatically alternates moments of quiet contemplation and passionate outbursts. Although the orchestra tends to take a back seat to the soloist’s tour de force in that case, it would be unfair not to mention their superb contribution to the immensely successful endeavor.
After two works of that caliber, my night was already made and fatigue was slowly taking over, but since I had heard that Magnus Lindberg's Kraft ("Power") would use a wide range of percussion instruments, I figured that they’d probably keep me awake, if nothing else. I was also very curious to see what a score requiring “instruments” such as oxygen tanks and stuff from a junkyard would end up sounding like, or even how the whole thing would come together. Well, the result was a surprisingly interesting half hour of all kinds of sounds literally coming from all directions as several small stations were set up in various locations of the concert hall. That also meant that some of the musicians had to run all over the place, occasionally competing with the few people who left during the performance. So not only did it keep me awake, but it kept me entertained as well. And it certainly concluded this memorable day with a resounding bang.