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New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
09/17/2008 -  
Hector Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
Jacques Ibert: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4

James Galway (Flute)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel (Conductor)

James Galway (© Paul Cox)

The opening of the New York Philharmonic season brought the Great and the Good from Manhattan, dressed in tuxes, suits. evening gowns , narrow Champagne glasses and broad smiles (most of which from the banking community were noticeably forced)/ It also sent the ageless exuberant Lorin Maazel back to the podium, and the always reliable Phil musicians in a not terribly gala concert consisting of Berlioz and Tchaikovsky and one gala exception..

As always, Sir James Galway, a flautist who has charmed King Cobras like Herbert von Karajan, brought Irish music to the world, ands made Mozart’s hated flute into a thing of ravishing beauty even giving the gala mood a frankly dour New York.

As a working and social comrade of conductor Maazel for many decades, Sir James makes their concerts together like the usual description of string quartets “a dialogue of friends.” And in this case, Sir James played a work not played too frequently on the concert stage, the Jacques Ibert Flute Concerto.

Ibert, like Poulenc, always believed that the gift of music came from the God of Mirth. Not for them the visual challenges of Ravel or the grandeur of Berlioz. No, these two Gallic masters made their music tuneful and joyful, ironic (if music can have irony) and with the fashionable perfection of a Dior rather than a Debussy.

Not that this could have been anything but a real challenge even to Sir James. Outside of a happily braying horn fanfare or two, and some circus tunes from the orchestra, the flute plays almost incessantly. Like watching to see how a magician “does it”, one waited for Sir James to take a breath, but his performance was seemingly breathless to the very end.

Not, though, the second movement, which was reminiscent of Ibert’s one masterpiece, Ports of Call. The orchestra played a strange tune, and over the muted strings, Sir James showed what a nuance and what resonance he could offer, mainly in the lower registers.

Yes, it was a master performance, but since the Ibert was more satisfying than uplifting, Sir James Galway could not be faulted for doing an encore, in this case something by Rimsky-Korsakov. It was very fast, lasted about a minute, and I can’t quite put the name to it. Something about “The Run of a Grasshopper?”, “The Frisking of a Queen Ant?”

Oh, that’s right. Something about a bumblebee. And oh, how I would like to be a rose upon which this bee lightly lithely alighted.

The opening Roman Carnival Overture was taken by Maazel with his usual panache, and an almost ominous English horn solo. It took a while to become accustomed to such a large orchestra after a summer of the streamlined Mostly Mozart Orchestra of the summer, but with more daring music to come during this season, one, unlike Sir James Galway, took a breath and prepared for the real galas to come.
CODA: The Phil was in a patriotic mood last night, with an American flag behind the violin section, and a rousing Star Spangled Banner before the Berlioz. It was led by Maazel, of course, and everyone—that is, almost everyone stood at attention.Many in the audience even sung.

Who, though, did not show deference to the flag? Not one, but the entire section of New York Philharmonic cellos refused to stand during this momentous event.

Now cellists are a pretty suspicious lot. Pablo Casals ran away from his homeland, because Spain’s leader was “fascist”. Mafia hit-men customarily carry machine-guns in cello-cases. And reliable sources tell me that the late Mstislav Rostropovich, who led our National Orchestra in Washington was actually a Russian.
So cellists beware. If you dare to sit down again during the National Anthem, don’t be surprised if you get a visit from the Department of Homeland Security.

This is your last warning.

Harry Rolnick



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