Conductor: Manfred Honeck
Dvorak: Rusalka Fantasy (arr. By Manfred Honeck)
Sibelius: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, Op. 47
Nikolaj Znaider: Violin
Tchaikovsky: Selections from Sleeping Beauty (arr. By Manfred Honeck)
As a die-hard fan of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, I have to say that last week was pretty good for me. Not only did I enjoy discovering short solo piano pieces of his thanks to Norwegian pianist Leif ove Andsnes on Tuesday evening, but on Thursday evening I was back in David Geffen Hall to experience his magnificent violin concerto for the umpteenth time thanks to Danish-Israeli violinist and conductor Nikolaj Znaider, the New York Philharmonic, and Austrian conductor (and music arranger!) Manfred Honeck. Those composers and musicians from the North took over part of the Big Apple last week, and it was a total blast.
Moreover, beside the Sibelius concerto, the rest of the program provided more lush Romanticism with some selections from Anton Dvorak’s opera Rusalka arranged by Honeck, and then some selections from Piotr Tchaikovsky’s ballet score The Sleeping Beauty arranged by Honeck too. I certainly could see an intriguing pattern here and I was looking forward to exploring it.
There are heaps of lovely melodies of Dvorak’s Rusalka, and Honeck’s Rusalka Fantasy did a good job at picking up bits and pieces and putting everything together in a convincing whole. It also handed “Song to the Moon” to concertmaster Frank Huang, and while the result did not benefit from the flexibility of a human voice, his beautifully glowing violin solo gave the beloved aria a different kind of life.
Speaking of violins, I must hear Sibelius’s violin concerto at least once a season. This is probably not the violin concerto I’ve heard the most (The Brahms would probably win that title, due to the sheer number of opportunities to hear it), but it is certainly the one I am the most obsessive about. Which kind of makes sense when you think of how obsession-filled the concerto actually is. On Thursday night, Znaider’s riveting performance, knowing exactly when to step on the intensity pedal and when to let go of it, reinforced my long-held belief that it is one of the most stunning compositions of the classical music repertoire.
Because no Romantic evening is complete without a visit from the King of Schmaltz himself, quintessential heart on one’s sleeve lyricism occupied the second half of the program with Honeck’s selections from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Like for his Rusalka Fantasy earlier, he put the various movements together not in chronological order, but more in a way that was making musical sense, and that turned out to be a clever decision in that case too. The New York Philharmonic has never shied away from embarking on an openly feel-good mission and we all went for it. Even if you were not familiar with the fairy tale, the ballet or the Disney movie, those were 45 glorious minutes of attractive melodies and lush orchestration that could not help but leave people all fuzzy inside, and sometimes that's all one needs.
If my two evenings at David Geffen Hall last week were as musically satisfying as could be, the behaviors of some audience members was not. After a cell phone unceremoniously interrupted Leif ove Andsnes’ opening number on Wednesday night, on Thursday night I happened to be sitting next to a blue-haired patron with a bourgeois look and a pig mentality. As the performance was going on and she started coughing, she did the right thing by reaching out for her cough drops, and the wrong thing by nonchalantly dropping the wrapper not once, or two, or even three, but four times! Who knew that the New York Philharmonic’s orchestra seats came with a license to litter?