Sculpture, dancing, energy...and whistles?
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
Esa-Pekka Salonen: Foreign Bodies (World Premiere) – Obsidian Tear (set to the composer’s Lachen verlernt and Nyx)
Daníel Bjarnason: Violin Concerto (#)
Pekka Kuusisto (#) (Violin/Whistles), Simone Porter (Violin)
Members of the Boston Ballet: Paul Craig, Roddy Doble, Derek Dunn, Lasha Khozashvili, John Lam, Patric Palkens, Lawrence Rines, Matthew Slattery, Junxiong Zhao
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen (Conductor)
Wayne McGregor (Choreographer/Set Designer), Mikko Nissinen (Artistic Director), Tal Rosner (Video Artist)
“Pekka Kuusisto is one of the greatest whistlers I have ever heard in my life.”
If P.T. Barnum, Cecil B. DeMille and the guys who staged Nero’s Coliseum epics ever grouped together to present a show for New York’s elegant audiences, last night would have been the result.
This was the “farewell” to the three-year stint of Esa-Pekka Salonen as composer-in-residence for Philharmonic. But the farewell was easily drowned out by the “Hails”. For last night’s one-night-only was not a modest tip of the hat. It was a spectacular.
On the one side, we had two of Mr. Salonen’s orchestral works, and a solo violin work with orchestral grandiosity. On the other side, we had visual sculptures by Tal Rosner, the most audacious video artist of music, drama and film. We had an Icelandic violinist who makes the early Nigel Kennedy seem staid.
And so as not to be bored, the all-male Boston Ballet arrived, sculpting, prancing, lifting and throwing themselves off the proscenium.
If this had to be the final appearance of the composer-in-residence, at least he turned it into a memorable carnival of diversity and divertissements.
The “world premiere” to start things was the three-movement Foreign Bodies, again a mammoth Salonen creation of various rhythms, mechanical robotic meters, great orchestral calls. Except that I couldn’t concentrate on this, since the giant screen behind the Phil, showing the Phil, then coalesced into one of Tal Rosner’s ever-more outrageous video sculptures.
I don’t mean outrageous as eccentric, but an outrageous personality of action pictures, abstracts, three-D architecture. Rarely one could see a million candles or waves, but mainly–and I have no idea whether this was synched live–Mr. Rosner produced the electricity and liveliness of Mr. Salonen’s music.
No way to describe it, save that made the hallucinatory settings of Kubrick’s 2001 seem like those clay ashtrays we used to model in summer camp.
S. Porter/P. Kuusisto
After a break, we had another other-planetary act, the Finnish virtuoso (an understatement) Pekka Kuusisto. Daníel Bjarnason, the Icelandic composer who wrote this for him, called it originally Scordatura, since the violinist lowest string (G) was tuned way down to low D. A hoarse, gruff sound which opened the work.
Except this was not a solo. Mr. Kuusisto whistled the note. He whistled other notes. The orchestra whistled notes. In fact, the whole 20-minute work had a jauntiness which encompassed folk tunes and Bartokian harmonics, Icelandic-style drones, vocal singing, and sustained tremolos in octaves with that retuned string in microtonic dissonances that...
Oh, why go on? The diminutive Bjorn-sized top-knotted black-cloaked violinist made this whole dazzling work sing, his own attitude that of an Irish step-dancer. If ya wasn’t there, I could never explain it. Let’s hope for YouTube.
After another break, Mr. Salonen’s Obsidian Tears made its debut. Rather, two previous works were paired for the dancers of Boston Ballet.
I had never heard the violin solo Lachen verlernt, the phrase “Laughter forgotten” taken from Pierrot lunaire. The sounds of Simone Stone piped to the stage–in a grandiose performance of this chaconne–were the setting for two of the Boston Ballet to show their muscles, flexing and bowing and jumping. I preferred the music, but ballet is not my thing.
One couldn’t avoid the complete male ensemble for Mr. Salonen’s Nyx, another grand work. I would like to say “most accessible”, but perhaps that is because I had heard it previously. Still, it is a tremendous experience, the chorus of horns, the vibraphone, the klezmer-style clarinet solos, all polyphonically rushing and crushing and creating rainbows of sound.
It did seem to be made for ballet, mainly since the full male ensemble of Boston Ballet produced their individual flexing, lifting, forming moveable torso-equations and showing Wayne McGregor’s inspired creations.
At the end, so much had been shown, so many extravaganzas, so many illusions, that I almost forgot the New York Philharmonic. If they were pushed into the background, surrendering to visual sculpture, fiddlestick adventures and heaving bodies, well, they did their parts with honor, and Mr. Salonen conducted with his usual finesse.
Though finesse hardly describes an evening of multifarious, sometimes jubilant joys.