January in December
Avery Fisher Hall
Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus
Serge Prokofieff: Violin Concerto # 1
Anton Bruckner: Symphony # 3
Toni Glickman (violin)
Otto-Werner Mueller (conductor)
Perhaps no one single work in the history of late nineteenth century music is so significant as a bridge between the past and the present as the Symphony # 3 of Bruckner. Although now out of fashion to refer to it as the "Wagner" Symphony there is no escaping the direct associations and homage to the master of grand opera form. Wagner himself always referred to Bruckner as die trompeter because of the opening of this amazing work which simultaneously looks back to the glories of Bayreuth and forward to the next generation of Viennese music embodied by Gustav Mahler. Reluctantly, the shy Bruckner had become a professor at the Vienna Conservatory and Mahler was his star pupil. The future superstar conductor of the Vienna Opera watched in horror as the reactions of the crowd at the premiere of this great work were manipulated by the Brahmsian faction of the raging Brahms-Wagner feud to the point where Bruckner’s reputation was tarnished even before his career had had a chance to blossom. In looking back at this seminal event it is interesting to study the comments of the most ardent opponent of Wagnerism, Eduard Hanslick, who wrote in his review that "Beethoven’s 9th Symphony meets Die Walkuere and is trampled beneath its hooves". Actually there is wisdom in the first part of the comment and it should have been construed as high praise indeed, rather than the spurious invective which ruined so many promising musicians during that time.
Indeed Die Walkuere is a major inspiration for the form and drama of this symphony. To strike a balance between the new harmonic language of the "music of the future" with the new style of symphonic writing unleashed by Beethoven was the inspiration of Bruckner’s genius. The Januarian aspects of this work are emphasized by the almost direct quotation by Mahler in the second movement of his Symphony # 1 from the trio section of this symphony’s third movement (Mahler and a fellow student arranged the entire work for two pianos to try and help popularize it after its poor initial reception). Further, Mahler adopted the Upper Austrian vulgarity of Bruckner as juxtaposed with the serious and reverent and used this device all of his adult creative life.
What a pleasure it was to hear this magnificent piece played so brilliantly by young people! The Juilliard Orchestra are basically undergraduates, with a few grad students thrown in, and they are the epitome of eagerness and fresh-faced enthusiasm. Couple this with a fine dedication and some of the best youthful musicians in the world and the evening is always first rate. The string section is glorious, infinitely superior to the other full time resident of Avery Fisher (much to New York's shame) and the winds and brass were spot on last evening. The horn section in particular was noticeably powerful (so vital to Bruckner) and the pacing and phrasing communicated by Otto-Werner Mueller were nothing short of brilliant. The second movement in particular was breathtaking, the insistent reprise in the celli particularly powerful. When hearing the youth of the world play this well, it is legitimate to wonder why so many of their elders lose this level of intensity. Perhaps professional orchestra members should be required to go back to school every now and then.
The evening was not all exceptional however. It was probably a bit unfair to expect 19 year old Toni Glickman to have a mature conception of the Prokofieff. She seemed to have no grasp of the contrast between legato and staccato which is the essence of this energetically sardonic work and so the orchestra followed suit with a lackluster performance. With some additional technical training and some wise guidance in musicianship (as opposed to simply note playing), she may still have a fine career. Her tone was excellent.
It was fitting to play such a forward looking work as the Bruckner as their cornerstone piece. It is always a pleasure to think about the future when it is in the capable hands of these fine young hopefuls. I ran into a young conducting student that I know afterwards and his own personal dedication seemed like a good emblem for me of the evening as a whole. At least on this particular night I was optimistic about the future of serious art music and its continued survival well into the new millenium.
Frederick L. Kirshnit