Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Muhly: Mixed Messages
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 ‒ Emanuel Ax
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44
Because all good things have to come to a (in this case, temporary) end, my last Carnegie Hall concert of the season took place last Thursday night, happily mixing tradition, with the prestigious Philadelphia Orchestra, a concerto by Beethoven performed by Emanuel Ax and a symphony by Rachmaninoff, and novelty, with two young men who, although they have quickly become well-established figures in the classical music world, still bring boundless enthusiasm and wide-ranging creativity to their respective fields: Music director/conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and multi-faceted composer/occasional keyboardist Nico Muhly. Not bad for a send-off.
The first piece of the concert ‒ and frankly my main reason for being there, with all due respect to all the other parties involved ‒ was Muhly's "Mixed Messages", which was having its New York premiere on Thursday. Clocking in at approximately 11 minutes, it is a single movement that kept the large and eclectic orchestra continually busy in a myriad of different ways, all driven by one minimalist, but constant and propulsive pulse, in (Surprise!) the best Philip Glass tradition. Listening to the various, sometimes startling but always appealing, instrumental combinations, I kind of felt like I was standing in front of a toy store window in which a lot of animated mechanisms were all doing their own thing. Between the resounding opening and the abrupt ending, the adventure was inventive, fun and colorful, apparently a direct reflection of the ever-ebullient composer, who was rightly greeted like a rock star when he came onstage to take a bow or two.
When I originally looked at the program and saw Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, my first thought was to wonder if, after indulging in Leif Ove Andsnes' magnificent "Beethoven Journey" three months ago, I needed to hear this third piano concerto again so soon. But of course I did! Especially when it is performed by such an accomplished pianist as Emanuel Ax. And so it was, beautifully unfolding with the impossibly lush sound of the orchestra, the unfailingly eloquent playing of the soloist and the deeply involved conducting of the maestro. And if the orchestra's take-no-prisoners élan at times threatened to unceremoniously drown the delicate piano, Ax deftly made sure to let his stunning part be heard and smashingly succeeded, as the thunderous ovation he got could attest.
After intermission, most of us were more than ready for Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3, but a few concert goers were apparently taking their own sweet time getting back to their seats in the parquet, to which Nézet-Séguin responded by seating patiently on one side of his podium, and then on the other side, to the chuckles and applause of the audience, before finally giving the downbeat. Although the symphony was written for the Philadelphia Orchestra all the way back in 1935, on Thursday night the current ensemble proved that it still unquestionably owes the opulently Russian work, especially in the intensely schmaltzy, deeply satisfying Adagio. And that's how my Carnegie Hall season ended, on a grand, unapologetically Romantic, and totally fulfilling note. I will be back.