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Welcome back musical warriors

New World Center
10/05/2013 -  & October 6*, 2013
Igor Stravinsky: "Pulcinella" Suite
Benjamin Britten: Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes", Op. 33A
George Gershwin: Cuban Overture (*) – Concerto in F

Yuja Wang (piano)
New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Andrés Lopera* (conductors)

Y. Wang (© Felix Broede)

New World Symphony opened its season with a particularly varied program, one whose theme is awkward to describe. What do the pieces have in common except that they were created in the 20th century? The centerpiece was certainly the second half which was devoted to two Gershwin pieces that seem to fallen out of the standard concert repertoire. Perhaps this lack of familiarity explains why they sounded so under rehearsed. The Cuban Overture was led by the young conductor, Andrés Lopera. His interpretation simply lacked wit and felt particularly unenergetic. Moments when the brass covered the strings were frequent and most unpleasant.

Following this Michael Tilson Thomas led the Concerto in F with 26-year old Yuja Wang as soloist. Ms. Wang is not ready for a piece like this one, so it is unfair to judge her talent based on this performance. Having sheet music lying on top of the piano as she turned the pages was highly distracting - and made one wonder if she is not yet familiar with the work. Mr. Tilson Thomas was no help for her as the orchestra continually drowned her out. The orchestra had little feeling for Gershwin and the description of a lazy horn seemed to be more like a sleepy, almost comatose one. Eroticism, always a dominate characteristic of Gershwin, was absent, creating a generally neuter tone.

However it is great to see these pieces presented instead of the overly performed Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris, but significant work is necessary before they can be offered effectively. The audience’s great ovation, as is often the case, was for the composer, not the performance. It is easy to find a multitude of fine recordings of these gems, so it is a big disappointment when a live performance falls so short.

The orchestra and Mr. Tilson Thomas got off to a great start with Stravinsky’s suite for the ballet Pulcinella. Its opening pomp contains a significant dose of humor which continues through a number of tricky and charming interludes which create distinct mental pictures. With the absence of percussion and an emphasis on the strings, there was the intimacy of a chamber concert. Stravinsky the great orchestrator can’t help but offer narrative even for those of us who don’t have a clue what the ballet is about. This was a perfect way to display the theatrical abilities of the musicians, with Kathryn Daugherty’s trombone making an especially humorous cameo.

Next came a great achievement, with reservations. Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes arguably constitute his most recognizable piece. Even those who don’t generally appreciate Britten’s work are enthusiastic about hearing it when offered by an orchestra as buoyant as New World. Mr. Tilson Thomas and his group did not let anyone down with a most intense yet sensitive reading. The playing was accompanied with designs by Tal Rosner. His haunting video images projected on panels above the stage were particularly appropriate for each of the selections. In effect Mr. Rosner choreographs his images which are set to music with precise interpretations intended. The highest praise one can give is a desire to experience his video again, although I would prefer it without the distraction of a live orchestra. Rosner’s work demands to be the center of focus. An explanation of what was experienced could not do justice, so one can only hope that this experience will someday be made more widely available.

This was an ambitious program to kick off the season even if it did not always satisfy. New World is always eager to try the less familiar. In a world that has become increasingly homogenized and complacent, this alone is reason to be grateful.

Jeff Haller



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