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Good Bye, Avery Fisher. Hello, David Geffen.

New York
David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
09/24/2015 -  
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92

Lang Lang (piano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (conductor)

(© New York Philharmonic)

As Alan Gilbert’s tenure on the podium of the New York Philharmonic winds down to its conclusion in 2017, this season’s opening night presented a landmark occasion. After more than forty years as Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center’s principal concert venue will henceforth be known as David Geffen Hall. The billionaire Hollywood mogul won the recognition for donating $100 million for the hall’s renovation. For a mere $15 million, Lincoln Center’s management controversially bought back the naming rights from Fisher’s heirs so that Geffen’s name could replace that of the earlier media Macaenas (Fisher founded Fisher radios) and even have them rather garishly illuminated by lights over the plaza entryway. The Philharmonic’s new board chairman Oscar Schafer took advantage of the occasion to announce his own lavish $25 million gift, the largest personal donation in the orchestra’s history.

The occasion was marked by an abbreviated concert of the listed works by Grieg and Beethoven, repertoire favorites played consecutively with a brief pause rather than the more natural intermission. Patrons were gearing up for a post-concert gala dinner, and clearing the hall by 9pm fit the evening’s schedule ever so much better.

It was a bit disappointing that Gilbert began his penultimate season with such a conventional program. His tenure, which started in 2009, began more adventurously, with newly commissioned works and less well known repertoire pieces populated dynamic and thought provoking programs. But in a season when about a third of the repertoire at the neighboring Metropolitan Opera (also considering selling naming rights to its hall to meet budget goals) consists of Puccini operas, conventionality is perhaps to be expected.

The New York Philharmonic has a fine and storied tradition. Alas, its recent performances tend to be competent and enjoyable if not necessarily energetic or definitive. The orchestral notes of Grieg’s Piano Concerto (his only piece in the genre) rolled off the stage easily enough, as did Lang Lang’s virtuoso playing. While the technical aspects of Lang Lang’s contribution incurred no displeasure, the pianist’s distracting gestures remain too airy and affected to escape the impression that he is an aging child prodigy still trading off an image of easy brilliance. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony likewise resounded with great beauty, but Mr. Gilbert’s reading sounded a bit too delicate for the grand German master’s score. Wagner’s famous labeling of its third movement as "the Apotheosis of the Dance" fell a bit flat here. Still, the 2015-2016 season offers great excitement and a number of interesting programs that New York audiences should eagerly embrace beyond this rather showy opening.

Paul du Quenoy



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