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The Thing With Feathers

New York
Carnegie Hall
04/26/2004 -  
Aaron Jay Kernis: New Era Dance
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony # 41
Gustav Mahler: Symphony # 1

Juilliard Symphony
James DePriest (conductor)

First, some housekeeping items:

1. The instrumental ensemble system at the Juilliard School divides the two major performing groups more or less by age. The Symphony, which played last evening at Carnegie Hall, is the younger, but in no way inferior, group.
2. The participants are chosen from the cream of the world of musical study and come from all over the globe for this unique opportunity and honor.
3. When either this group or the senior Orchestra gives free concerts at Lincoln Center, there is always a long line of prospective ticket holders (New York is full of schnorers), but when they charge 25 dollars for a concert at Carnegie, the crowd is reduced to an extremely enthusiastic but motley group of friends and relatives.
4. The presence of so many empty seats last evening was truly a shame as this concert was far the superior to many of those put on by visiting professional orchestras who charge around 85 dollars for those same parquet spots. The added benefit of stirring one’s heart and increasing one’s hope for the future is just a nice touch.

James DePriest is truly a phenomenon. Now in his seventeenth season of association with this training orchestra, he has perfected the art of the iron fist in the velvet glove. This convocation of young musicians, in every sense the future of classical music as we know it, was remarkable most especially for its discipline. The entire group of approximately 100 can stop and start together, a maneuver apparently unteachable to the overstuffed orchestra (who shall remain nameless) who normally shares Lincoln Center plaza with them. This performance of the Mahler 1 was a very good one. Not a very good student one, but simply a very good one, interpretively bordering on excellent. Special touches included Mr. DePriest’s masterful juxtapositioning of the Jewish dance in the third movement with the more free-flowing surrounding Viennese smoothness (it is obvious at even a first hearing that he was an assistant to Leonard Bernstein), the admirable highlighting of inner voices, particularly the almost never well balanced harmonic horn parts in the second movement, and the elasticity of beat that allowed his special charges to breathe the music, not just saw away at it. The finale, absolutely first rate in its intense excitement, got away a little bit from proper intonation, but in spirit it was far more interesting than so many heard in the quotidian major orchestral past.

In its own way, the ”Jupiter” was even more impressive. Perhaps this comes from just hearing Alfred Brendel, but this listener was especially taken with the dynamics in this rendition. No period performance practice here, this was sensual and sensitive music making. Mozart loved the new crescendo device (called the “Mannheim roller” in his day) and wanted us all to revel in it. Thankfully, some who have that most awesome of responsibilities, that of passing the torch, still recognize the value of emotion in music.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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