Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Lyadov: The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62
Stravinsky: Petrushka - Eric Huebner (Piano)
Adams: Scheherazade.2 ‒ Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra ‒ Leila Josefowicz
My first and unforgettable taste of the already long-standing and flawless musical chemistry between premier American composer John Adams and formidable violinist Leila Josefowicz took place five years ago, when she performed his Dharma at Big Sur at one of the concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra he was conducting during his residency at the Kennedy Center. On that fateful evening, they also incidentally proved to me once and for all that contemporary classical music could be a truly thrilling experience. I've made a point of keeping up with both artists as much as possible since then, but never again had I had the opportunity to hear her play one of his works until this week.
As timing would have it, this past Thursday the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert and Leila Josefowicz presented for the first time John Adams' latest piece, Scheherazade.2, which is dedicated to the violinist, along with works by Lyadov and Stravinsky. Inspired by an exhibition about the Arabian Nights at the Institut du monde arabe in Paris a couple of years ago and the casual brutality still suffered by many women around the world, Adams has created a sprawling four-movement "dramatic symphony" in which the solo violin impersonates a fearless modern-day Scheherazade. Enters Leila Josefowicz, the quintessential fearless modern-day musician. So it was with high expectations that after wrapping up another busy week, I made it to the Avery Fisher Hall yesterday evening for ‒ I must reluctantly admit it ‒ not the première, but the deuxième of John Adams' Scheherazade.2.
The evening started with "The Enchanted Lake", a short but lush tone poem by Anatoly Lyadov, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov. It is hard to tell is the indirect Scheherazade connection was intended or not, but this precious little gem turned out to be a big winner regardless.
After this elegiac opening number, Igor Stravinsky's mischievous Petrushka exploded with bright colors, inventive melodies and a generally exuberant mood. The full orchestra did a masterful job at delivering an irresistibly fun account of the puppet's adventures, including an especially dazzling turn by pianist Eric Huebner.
After intermission, John Adams came onstage to introduce his Scheherazade.2, and off we were to a long, tortuous, but also cautiously optimistic journey towards women's empowerment. First appearing as a traditionally beautiful and sensual female figure, Leila Josefowicz wasted no time expressing unbreakable strength and deep-rooted resilience too, brilliantly representing both every woman and the ideal woman. Never mind all the obstacles she had to overcome, among which incensed "true believers" and squabbling "religious zealots", she resolutely stayed true to herself as she was unfurling stunning lyrical lines between breathless escapes and intense arguments. Although all the eyes and ears were rightly focused on the riveting soloist, the orchestra kept constantly busy playing the bad guys, but also conveying a subtly exotic atmosphere as well as vividly cinematic images. This was a richly complex and strongly evocative score, which can definitely be filed with Adams' most commendable artistic achievements, and it really sounded like he had found the perfect musicians to perform it, as the huge ovation from the packed audience could attest. Contemporary classical music can be a truly thrilling experience indeed.