Thursday, April 30, 2015

New World Symphony - Schubert, Berg, Moret & Debussy - 04/28/15

Conductor: Michael Tilson-Thomas
Schubert: Incidental Music from Rosamunde
Berg: Violin Concerto ‒ Anne-Sophie Mutter
Moret: En rêve ‒ Anne-Sophie Mutter
Debussy: La mer

After Mahler's monumental sixth symphony and then a little lull, I was back at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night to hear the divine Ms. Mutter wrap up her Perspective series with a promising double bang, namely Alban Berg's famously wrenching Violin Concerto and the long overdue US premiere of Swiss composer Norbert Moret's "En rêve", which happens to have been written especially for her. As if such a dazzling treat were not enough, the concert would start with some excerpts from Schubert's Rosamunde and conclude with Debussy's beautifully atmospheric "La mer".  Although it did look a bit random, the program was still mightily exciting.
True to her dedicated mentor mission, Anne-Sophie Mutter would be accompanied by The New World Symphony, the 27-year old, Miami-based, highly democratic orchestra consisting of 87 carefully selected post-undergraduate instrumentalists (When you know that about 1,500 aspirants apply each year and very few are chosen, you realize that those kids have to be serious and seriously talented), and conducted by another tireless music education advocate, the orchestra's co-founder and artistic director Michael Tilson-Thomas.

The concert opened with 25 minutes of incidental music from Schubert's Rosamunde, which immediately showed the packed Stern Auditorium that the youngsters on the stage had the right stuff indeed. Schubert may have failed miserably as an opera composer, but on Tuesday the orchestra readily proved, if need be, that he was nevertheless able to come up with downright appealing music for the theater, which was then fortunately recycled for other uses.
One of the most significant works of the 20th century, and maybe not so incidentally one of Anne-Sophie Mutter's calling cards, Berg’s last composition proves once and for all that resolute modernity and timeless beauty are not mutually exclusive after all. Dedicated "to the memory of an angel" following the death of Manon, the 18-year-old daughter of Mahler's widow Alma and the architect Walter Gropius, this gripping violin concerto is a rather short, but endlessly complex and emotional draining roller-coaster ‒ lyrical, playful, angry, mournful, soothing ‒ which soloist and orchestra impeccably drove with impressive technique and deep sense of musicality all the way to the very last note.
After the much needed intermission, Anne-Sophie Mutter was back for Moret's "En rêve", another short, even more uncompromisingly challenging piece that was obviously as familiar to her, who has been championing it in Europe for the past 18 years, as it was unknown to most of us. We could have hardly dreamed of a better introduction to it though. "En rêve" started with a mystical journey into the world of nature and dreams before exploding into unusual sounds, hazy colors and carefree spirit. Here again, MTT led the superb orchestra into a totally engaging performance that subtly highlighted the haunting quality of the work, making it the perfect parting gift If we must part from Ms. Mutter.
Debussy's "La mer", on the other hand, needs no introduction. Solidly established as one of the French composer's most popular hits, on Tuesday it received a particularly well-balanced treatment, in which the three "symphonic sketches" sprang out brilliantly colored and meticulously detailed, effortlessly sweeping the more than willing audience with force and authority. It was hard to believe that such a remarkable display of terrific skills was coming from such a young ensemble, but there they were, commandingly breathing new, invigorating life into the splendidly impressionistic composition.

It was getting late, but that was obviously not an issue for the fired-up musicians as they whole-heartedly threw themselves into a joyful "Farandole" from Bizet’s L’Arlésienne. ¡Olé!

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