Friday, November 22, 2019

New York Philharmonic - Tchaikovsky, Dessner & Sibelius - 11/16/19

Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali 
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy 
Bryce Dessner: Wires 
Bryce Dessner: Electric Guitar 
Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 

One day after our concert in my work neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, my mom and I were back in my home neighborhood of the Upper West Side for our Saturday night concert. That’s when, after a beautiful and busy fall day enjoying many of the area’s sights and amenities, as well as a quick trip mid-town for a fun visit to the Museum at FIT, we headed down Broadway for a concert by the New York Philharmonic in David Geffen Hall. As hard as it was to believe, it was a first for my mom, with all the pressure that it entails.
One week after the fabulous Esa-Pekka Salonen-centric performance I attended, there would be more high-quality Finnish exports to experience as the program included Sibelius’ First Symphony and would be conducted by young and fast-rising Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali. Add to that Tchaikovsky’s  Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy and you had a true Romantic feast.
But that was not all. Variety being the spice of life, a dash of rock’n’roll would also make its appearance courtesy of The National’s Bryce Dessner and his electric guitar for the New York premiere of his own Wires. Lo and behold, this was the first program including an electric guitar performed by the New York Philharmonic. Better late than never, I suppose.

The two things that we noticed when walking into David Geffen Hall, was the impressive number of people in the audience, and the equally impressive number of musicians on the stage. This could be partly explained by the presence of Tchaikovsky on the program with his Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy. the intensely lyrical piece may have been “just” the concert opener, but its sheer power could not be denied. That said, The beloved Russian composer was clearly not the only big draw there.
Bryce Dessner, the American-born and Paris-based, endlessly versatile artist whose resume includes, but is not limited to, a Grammy-winning rock band, numerous film scores, countless exciting collaborations and plenty of experimental endeavors. Accordingly, a lot of audience members had obviously come to check him out in this unusual, but not completely unfamiliar, environment, a case in point being the young couple next to me, who were too busy taking pictures of their hero to even bother applauding him after he was done playing his Wires.
It was an applause-worthy performance though. Inspired by the connections made and missed with all sorts of wire, the cross-over portion of our evening turned out to be unexpectedly subdued, Dessner inconspicuously sitting down by the first violin with a plugged-in Fender Telecaster and intentionally blending in with the orchestra most of the time. For better or worse, there was no shredding guitar solo à la Jimmy Page (sigh), but still a fair amount of cool sonic arrangements, even if the wires did not always click seamlessly or meaningfully.
After intermission, we jumped right back into Romantic territory with Sibelius’s magnificent Symphony No. 1, which young and energetic maestro Rouvali handled with the unwavering aplomb of an old hand. He did not do anything crazy or even unusual with it, but led the exceptionally tight orchestra in an impressively coherent, informed and simply beautiful reading of it, which is quite a feat in itself already. To the credit of Dessner's fans, they stayed put for the lengthy classical part of the program, and even seemed to enjoy it thoroughly according to their spontaneous applause between the movements. And that may be the biggest accomplishment of them all!

Two down, two more to go.

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