Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Auerbach: NYx: Fractured Dreams (Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Orchestra)
Leonidas Kavakos: Violin
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G Major
Christina Landshamer: Soprano
Getting to hear new music while it is being brought to the world for the first time ever is always exciting, and getting to attend a discussion about it with the composer and soloist beforehand is even better, even if the sensibly scheduled event cramps further an already busy week.
That’s why on Tuesday evening I was in the packed Rubinstein Atrium for the New York Philharmonic’s Insight at the Atrium talk featuring Greek violinist and New York Philharmonic’s current artist-in-residence Leonidas Kavakos as well as Russian-born New York-residernt, natural night owl and tirelessly multi-tasking artist Lera Auerbach, who were being interviewed by the New York Philharmonic’s Vice-President of Education Theodore Wiprud in anticipation of the world premiere of her fourth, NY Philharmonic-commissioned, violin concerto, NYx: Fractured Dreams, the following night.
As expected, there were no excerpts to be heard, but still plenty of insights to be gained, such as the fact that the composition consists of thirteen interconnected fragments describing things that can happen during the night (“Nyx” being the name of the Greek goddess of the night, mother of sleep and death), and that it is also a tribute to the dreamers that New York City is made of, which explains the capitalized “NY”.
That was more than enough to pick everybody’s curiosity and, about 24 hours later, a much bigger crowd eagerly converged to the David Geffen Hall for the real thing and, as if to counterbalance the potential darkness of the concerto, Mahler’s blatantly sunny Symphony No. 4.
So on Wednesday night, after a few words by the composer herself, Leonidas Kavakos and his prized Stradivarius started alone with a beguiling melody , as unfussy and mesmerizing as usual, before the orchestra abruptly made itself loudly heard. And then we were off to a widely contrasting, highly expressive, a bit mysterious, non-stop journey that was filled to the rim with dramatic colors, peaceful interludes and startling episodes. The piece may have sometimes felt erratic or unsettled, just like dreams and New York City are, but it is not hard to see that it is in fact rigorously structured, a quality that the tightly coordinated soloist, orchestra ─ and, of all things, musical saw ─ made abundantly clear.
During the talk Lera Auerbach had pointed out the priceless advantage of composing for a musician who makes possibilities “limitless” and, accordingly, she made sure to keep Kavakos constantly busy with plenty of material for virtuosic feats that he impeccably accomplished. Whether he was discreetly indulging in a graceful dance or fiercely fighting terrifying outside forces, he unhesitatingly jumped in the challenging fray and remained solidly in charge until the very subdued ending, which allowed us to cleverly come full circle. And just like that, a new violin concerto was born. Long live NYx: Fractured Dreams!
After that intense opener, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 sounded downright earthy and carefree. Although I have to confess that I like his work more when he is angst-ridden, the composer did a wonderful job evoking the joys of Alpine countryside living, which on Wednesday night were radiantly brought to life by a very involved Alan Gilbert and his totally engaged orchestra.
The adagio beautifully soared and was in fact so breathtaking that most of the shockingly high number of smartphone users in the audience raised their heads from their lit-up screens in genuine wonder for at least for a couple of minutes. And nowadays that means something.
German soprano Christina Landshamer had a hard time being heard over the orchestra on a couple of occasions, but her luminous voice was a precious addition to the final movement, and concluded the work, and concert, with touching innocence and glowing hopefulness.