Conductor: Thomas Adès
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz, No. 1, S. 514
Adès: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Kirill Gerstein: Piano
After Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen’s visit to David Geffen Hall with the Londoners of the Philharmonic Orchestra last week, this week Carnegie Hall had the visit of English composer, performer and conductor Thomas Adès with the Yankees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for which he has been the artistic partner for three years now, and later for a piano recital with his long-time partner in music Kirill Gerstein. So many extraordinarily talented visitors, so little time! So little, in fact, that I had to choose between the two concerts and eventually opted for Wednesday.
The big attraction of last Wednesday’s program was the New York premiere of Adès’ brand new piano concerto, which would unsurprisingly be performed by Gerstein, a natural keyboard wizard whose curiosity only equals his versatility, for whom it was written in the first place. And I just had to hear it.
Although Franz Liszt composed a wide range of works, I tend to prefer the ones conveying flamboyant and macabre forces, which he can conjure up like nobody else. And if his “Totentanz” remains my old-time favorite, especially when performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, on Wednesday night I very much enjoyed the orchestra version of his “Mephisto Waltz”, which came out with plenty of irrepressible vigor and dramatic flair.
Any new work by Adès is a highly anticipated event, and his new Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was no exception, especially since it would benefit from having its composer on the podium and its dedicatee at the piano. Clocking at just about 20 minutes, it turned out to be a traditionally structured concerto made of mostly untraditional sounds that at first seemed to have been serendipitously put together.
It did not take long to realize though that this relentless smorgasbord of modern harmonies, burlesque bits, jazzy overtones, lyrical waves and ever-changing colors was a tightly organized endeavor revolving around the leading soloist, who was pretty much kept busy the whole time. On the other hand, when you have somebody of Gerstein’s caliber at your disposal, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to maximize his apparently limitless capacities. In this case, the result was riveting.
The second part of the program was dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s breakthrough Symphony No. 4, a frequent and always welcome staple in any concert hall. But the combination of sheer exhaustion, the presence of fidgety children behind me, and the comforting feeling that I would probably be able to hear it again soon helped me make the right decision and leave at intermission. Until next time, Piotr!