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Best Behavior

New York
Alice Tully Hall
05/22/2002 -  
Ernest Chausson: Poeme
Sergei Prokofieff: Violin Concerto # 1
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto # 1

Timothy Fain and Ju-Young Baek (violins)
Paavali Jumppanen (piano)
New York Chamber Symphony
Gerard Schwarz (conductor)

Young Concert Artists is an organization dedicated to nurturing the perennial next generation of musicians as they wend their way through the minefield of introductory musical presentation. It is natural for there to be some maternal instincts exhibited in the process, but this year’s culminating concert demonstrated the dangers of mothering turning to smothering of creative instincts, a disconcerting trend in the ultra-conservative conservatory approach currently haunting America’s fabled institutions of higher musical learning. It was apparent that the role of a parent was being actively assumed by the organization, directing a surprisingly sterile evening of performances designed not to ennoble with flights of poesy, but rather determined not to embarrass with overly ambitious leaps of artistic freedom. All enterprises, even the most deserving, need large amounts of funding to survive, and this night was adjunct to the annual black tie gala, but the atmosphere of making nice for the donors led to just the opposite result: a program notable only for its tedium.

Ignoring the lovefest of hyperbole emanating from the speaker’s platform was difficult, but I was determined to concentrate only on the music. Actually, the first performance by Timothy Fain was quite an accomplished one, his tone mature and full-bodied, his delicate evocation of the subtleties of the Chausson admirable even in someone thrice his age. Unfortunately, this magical opening faded quickly to memory as the reading of the Prokofieff was stripped of virtually all of its musical values (and entirely all of its sardonic humor) in this gingerly version that perhaps accomplished its ultimate goal: violinist Ju-Young Baek cannot be accused of making any mistakes. But is this enough? She was especially overmatched in the movement wherein the composer uses a devilish combination of left hand pizzicato and savage bowing techniques not for technical challenge (he assumed that dedicatee Oistrakh could handle the gymnastics) but rather for sparkling auditory excitement, a conceit totally lacking in this quotidian rendition.

I was particularly disappointed and surprised by the poor quality of the New York Chamber Symphony. I had never heard them before but assumed that because their conductor is the normally excellent Gerard Schwarz that they would also be a fine ensemble of competent musicians. Instead, we were exposed to a sloppy band who couldn’t even fulfill the oom-pah-pah role that Maestro assigned to them this night. Perhaps their botched entrances and poor intonation were designed to make the evening’s guest of honor, outgoing Philharmonic Kapellmeister Kurt Masur, feel comfortably at home.

More often than not, the recitals presented under these auspices are very inspiring and occasionally one feels the presence of incipient greatness, but this particular event just seemed lackluster. Paavali Jumppanen’s tempi in the Brahms 1 were as glacial as Glenn Gould’s but seemed not profound but rather simply cautious. Even with this pound of prevention there were numerous mistakes by both soloist and orchestra. As a musical parent myself, I feel awkward in producing such negative commentary, but ultimately I don’t feel that a substandard concert of this kind can be simply swept under the rug. Overall, YCA had produced many fine evenings and heralded many important performers. I would suggest, however, that at future fundraisers they pay a little more attention to the repast on the stage and a little less to the one in the dining area.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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