Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Mozart: Divertimento in B-flat, K. 137
Nielsen: Clarinet Concerto Op. 57
Charles Neidich: Clarinet
Neidich: Scherzissimo for Clarinet and Strings
Charles Neidich: Clarinet
Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4
After the expected lull of late summer, the official season has finally been kicked into high gear in concert halls and opera houses around the city, and after a rousing concert by the New York Philharmonic on Friday night, this afternoon I was more than ready for the smaller but no less blazingly talented New York Classical Players in a typically eclectic program including well-known entities such as Mozart, Schoenberg and Nielsen, and the bonus discovery du jour, Charles Neidlich, doing double duty as clarinetist and composer.
So just as the sun was coming out, the temperature was moving slightly up and the city was navigable again, I took a walk across a bustling Central Park and joined an eager crowd in the orchestra's unofficial Manhattan home of the Church of the Heavenly Rest on the Upper East Side for yet another free concert by this unique group of dedicated and selfless young musicians.
The concert safely opened with Mozart and the Divertimento in B-flat, K. 137 that he wrote when he was a rapidly maturing 16-year old prodigy tirelessly travelling all over Europe. As the NYCP's string players put their expert skills to work, they did full justice to the genuinely attractive piece, brightly highlighting the highly melodic nature of the composition while also displaying Mozart's solid sense of his own structure as well as an uncanny dramatic flair.
Carl August Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto Op. 57 turned out to be a non-stop 30-minute conversation, sometimes friendly, sometimes confrontational, but for sure never boring, between the soloist and the orchestra. Only a true virtuoso would be able to come out of this worthy predicament alive, and luckily for us the NYCP had solicited the right one in acclaimed clarinetist, composer, conductor and teacher Charles Neidich. Stormingly asserting itself, playfully flitting around or pensively reflecting, the clarinet boldly held its own and treated the audience to a mesmerizing demonstration of its wide range of possibilities. The strings, however, did not let their guest star steal the entire show and performed with plenty of countering power for a totally enjoyable battle.
After a well-deserved break during the intermission, Charles Neidich was back onstage with the orchestra for his own Scherzissimo for Clarinet and Strings, a short work he composed in 1999 for Elliot Carter's 91st birthday. Tonally based on the notes E, C, B, and B-flat for roughly Elliott, Carter, Happy and Birthday, this outstanding birthday gift had its New York premiere this afternoon, virtuosically flying around in all directions to everyone's delight.
The concert ended with a magnificent rendition of Anton Schoenberg's lushly Romantic Verklärte Nacht, the one work of his that keeps on reminding the world that the ground-breaking inventor of the often off-putting 12-tone technique was also capable of churning out an amazing wealth of richly lyrical sounds, which would have no doubt made Brahms and Wagner turn green with jealousy. Inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel, in which a woman confesses to her lover that she bears another man's child and he gently forgives her as they walk under the moonlight, Verklärte Nacht takes this highly dramatic background to create a whole world of intense emotions and gorgeous sounds lavishly unfolding in one sweeping and – Yes! – transfiguring movement. And there's nothing like a little transfiguration on a lovely fall Sunday afternoon.