Barber: Adagio for Strings
Beethoven: Symphony No 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Sinfonia eroica)
I must confess that since I moved to New York City, about six months ago, I have neglected to attend concerts by the all-around accomplished New York Philharmonic despite living a 20-minute walk from the Lincoln Center. So what gives? Well, it is mostly their home, the still controversial after all these years Avery Fisher Hall, that keeps walking by, but not stopping. Although I have to admit that on a few memorable occasions, when the music was brilliantly flowing from the stage and completely submerged me, I did forget the regrettable box-like design and sub-par acoustics, I’d frankly rather spend my precious time and hard-earned money someplace else.
So when I heard that they were scheduled to perform at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, which happens to be located even closer to where I live, albeit in the opposite direction, on Memorial Day, plans were quickly firmed up. That’s how I ended up in the massive, still unfinished structure with my mum and a small group of various friends on one of the hottest days of the newly arrived spring. The program was short – barely an hour – but irresistibly attractive to the die-hard string lover that I am with Barber’s unabashedly lyrical Adagio for Strings and Beethoven’s gloriously heroic Symphony No 3, the Eroica.
Only eight-minute long, Barber’s most popular work has been packing an intense and lasting emotional punch for decades now, and remains one of the most poignant elegies ever conceived. Hearing it played in such a spiritual venue, never mind the tacky assortment of country flags hanging above our heads, was certainly a unique experience, which was made all the more powerful as the sounds from the orchestra's inspired strings were slowing filling up the cavernous space. Alan Gilbert led his musicians to a beautifully expressive ode to grief, sadness and melancholy, which was, all things considered, a totally appropriate opening for a Memorial Day concert.
After the violin feast, we moved on to Beethoven’s homage to larger-than-life grandeur with his third symphony. Originally meant to be named after Napoleon, the irascible German composer quickly changed his mind after learning that the French General had crowned himself emperor. The major themes remained though, but on Monday night they were hard to discern in the muddy sounds coming from the orchestra, sometimes bouncing off the far off walls, sometimes losing their way to the top. However, even if balance and clarity were hard to come by, Beethoven’s daring combination of classical tradition and ground-breaking elements still won us over, even if the victory was a bit cloudy. Thanks to the imperturbable Alan Gilbert and his uniformly valiant musicians, we, along with the 1,900 lucky souls who had made it into the cathedral and the 200 listeners who were enjoying the live broadcast outside, got to conclude our Memorial Day weekend with a resounding bang.