Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings, Op. 11
Jeeyoung Kim: Lullaby of the Waves
Max Bruch: Double Concerto for Violin and Viola in E Minor, Op. 88
Siwoo Kim: Violin
Richard Yongje O'Neill: Viola
Franz Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata for Viola and Strings
Richard Yongje O'Neill: Viola
Hugo Wolf: Italian Serenade
After saying "Auf Wiedersehen und bis bald" to Anne-Sophie Mutter at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening, on Friday evening it was time to say "Good-bye until next season" to The New York Classical Players as well, and most of all "Thank you" for making such fabulous music free for all, everywhere they perform, all the time. My last concert with them was going to be conveniently located walking distance from my place at the W83 Concert Hall and present a program that, as it is often the case with them, ran a wide spectrum from a well-known piece like Barber's "Adagio for Strings" to the NYCP-commissioned world premiere of Jeeyoung Kim's "Lullaby of the Waves".
Here again, the ensemble had clearly decided to close their busy season with a resounding bang, and they found the perfect soloist for that in Korean-American violist Richard Yongje O'Neill. Although he may not be a household name in the US, the highly successful musician comes with a fascinating personal history and a glowing resume that includes prestigious schools, numerous awards and wide-ranging collaborations as well as commercial modeling, marathon running, book authoring and school founding, among many other occupations. His extensive popularity with the Korean community was on full display on Friday evening as my friend Angie and I took our seats among a very excited audience that was rapidly filling up the understated but welcoming 900-seat concert hall.
One of the most subtly gripping compositions for strings ever, Barber's "Adagio for Strings" owes its enduring popularity to its intrinsic musical quality, of course, but also to its being played during many historical events and featured on many soundtracks, beside having been chosen as the first American work Toscanini ever conducted in 1938, that is. But when all is said and done, there is nothing like attending a pristine rendition of it to really experience the genuine heartstring pulling power of its simple, but profound poignancy. And that is just what happened on Friday night, when the orchestra's playing kept the beautiful elegy resolutely understated and still mightily effective.
The sober mood carried over to the next, completely unknown work, which was also dealing with the notions of loss and comfort. Jeeyoung Kim's "Lullaby of the Waves", however, did not linger on melancholic feelings too long and before we knew it, the music perked up and the gentle lyricism became more playful, with the musicians handling this brand new challenge with the same authority as if it were a regular concert staple.
Back on familiar territory with German Romantic master Max Bruch and his "Double Concerto for Violin and Viola", we finally got the opportunity to hear special guest Richard Yongje O'Neill engage in a lively conversation with NYCP member Siwoo Kim while enjoying the solid background provided by the orchestra. All those fired-up string players were obviously having a swell time together and spontaneously shared their joy of playing with the audience.
The real test for Richard Yongje O'Neill, however, came with the next piece, Schubert's "Arpeggione Sonata for Viola and Strings", in which the viola finally got to brightly shine during an all too rare star turn. Taking full advantage of it, O'Neill gave a performance that was probably one of the most successful advertisements ever for the impressive possibilities of the often unfairly neglected instrument as he was expertly negotiating the endless twists and turns of Schubert's truly delightful composition. This remarkable feat was enthusiastically rewarded by a long and loud rock star-worthy ovation.
The official concert concluded with Hugo Wolf's short, but highly melodic and blissfully care-free "Italian Serenade", which had everybody smiling and eventually provided the perfect balance for the heart-rending concert opening.
Since the NYCP would never let us go without one last, memorable gift, we got to relish their vibrant strings for one last time this season with the third movement of Janacek’s "Suite for Strings", complete with a young audience member’s unexpected – but timely – intervention. A spontaneous and uplifting send-off if there ever was one.