Conductor: Kent Nagano
Samy Moussa: A Globe Itself Infolding for Organ and Orchestra
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Maxim Vengerov: Violin
As I am slowly but surely working my way down my personal season-opening performance card, on Wednesday evening I found myself at Carnegie Hall with my friend Vy An to celebrate the “triumphant New York return” of Maxim Vengerov. While I had no doubt that the performance would be a triumph, I am not sure I would call it a “New York return” since he appeared with the New York Philharmonic two years ago after admittedly almost a decade away from the Big Apple.
I unfortunately was not able to attend those concerts, but I made up for it in the best possible way earlier this year at Aix-en-Provence’s Festival de Pâques (Like they say, if the mountain will not come to Mohamed, Mohamed will go to the mountain). Back in the US, I was thrilled at the additional opportunity to hear him play, this time the fabulous Brahms violin concerto with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal conducted by their music director Kent Nagano, an all too rare visitor around these parts himself.
Oh, and there were also a mysterious opening piece by Montreal-born, Berlin-residing, internationally sought-after and present in the hall composer Samy Moussa as well as a Hungarian-flavored middle piece with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. Not a bad way to kick start my Carnegie Hall season, even of the concert was not part of their official season.
Starting the evening with an attractive mix of sheer force and subtle nuances, Samy Moussa’s "A Globe Itself Infolding for Organ and Orchestra" turned out to be a short contemporary work that had a fascinating otherworldly atmosphere to it. Spiritual without being pompous, and melodic without being buoyant, the composition took us on a cosmic voyage that defied time and space, and featured the rather unusual presence of an organ. Vy An, who has her reservations toward contemporary music, gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up while rightfully comparing it to a (good) movie soundtrack. Stanley Kubrick would have loved it.
Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra is one of his most popular works probably because it is one of his most accessible too. In this case, however, “accessible” does not mean “uninspired”. Although the composition treats the various orchestral instruments as soloists, therefore earning the name of concerto as opposed to symphony, the orchestra showed a solid unity throughout the symmetrically arranged five movements. With a solid balance of seriousness and light-heartedness, as well as a deep sense of drama and unabashed lyricism, the music flowed smoothly and seamlessly under maestro Nagano's energetic baton.
But then again, let’s face it, the vast majority of the audience was there for the star of the evening, the Siberian child prodigy turned classical music superstar Maxim Vengerov, and the enthusiastic ovation he received upon just appearing on the stage only confirmed the notion that distance does make the heart grow fonder. But the man still knows how to deliver the goods too, and his uncompromisingly intense performance of the Brahms violin concerto was unquestionably one to remember.
Granted, at times style blatantly overpowered substance, but there was still an awful lot to savor as the prodigious outpour was often delightfully overwhelming. And while at some point his imposing cadenza seemed to be bound to go on forever, it was hard not to feel grateful for the privilege of being able to witness all its exciting virtuosic twists and turns. Once the expansive first movement over, the Adagio unfolded with more dramatic strength than usual before the last movement exploded with infectious irrational exuberance and plenty of vividly colorful fireworks. Va-Va-Voom!
The ovation was predictably delirious and abundantly rewarded with a stunningly beautiful “Méditation” from Massenet’s Thais. After German Romanticism at its most exacerbated, we happily switched to French Romanticism at its most radiant. Turning the intensity down a notch, Vengerov simply played from the heart and let the ever-popular intermezzo gorgeously soar into the hall. This uplifting parting gift more than made up for the harrowing trip back to my temporary home in Brooklyn.