About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Rouse and Rewake! Sin and Spring!

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Centre
10/30/2008 -  Oct 31, Nov. 1
Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring
Elliot Carter: Of Rewaking (New York premiere)
Leonard Bernstein: Symphony No. 1: “Jeremiah”
Christopher Rouse: Rapture (New York premiere)

Michelle DeYoung (Mezzo-soprano) New York Philharmonic Orchestra, David Robertson (Conductor)

David Robertson (© Michael Tammro)

Presently conductor of the Saint Louis Orchestra (the “real America”), David Robertson offered an all-American program last night. But as the most imaginative and original conductor to work with the New York Philharmonic these days, nothing was orthodox about the music (except the Hebrew lyrics of Bernstein’s symphony). Two works were of this century, two others went back some 60 years. The two living composers made appearances on stage, the 99 11/12-year-old Elliot Carter embracing soloist and conductor and orchestra, looking as ebullient as ever. Christopher Rouse, the baby of the two in his early 60’s old, was equally delighted by his own orchestral painting.

Those two offered a pair of surprises. Christopher Rouse is usually amongst the most prickly of writers, his music if not 12-tone, highly atonal, very dissonant and frankly, quite tragic. Rapture, which he pointed out is not “the Christian rapture” was a beautiful piece of art which offered his own personal bliss.

He is, yes, a most personal composer, and one could feel the sense of joy in what could be called a 14-minute concerto for orchestra. The themes were not memorable (though on second hearing, one feels that they would make perfect lyrical sense), but the orchestra gave out, yes, rapturous color. Flute-twittering sounds could be much like a MacDowell “Elegy For Springtime” sound, but here, at the beginning they made logical sense, introducing some radiant sounds.

One remembers a splendid trumpet solo against the orchestra, or a virtual cadenza by the entire percussion section. But at the end, one felt the rapture Rouse himself must have felt. And while a string “angelic choir” after the orchestra tutti was something of a movie cliché, the composer signed off with his own feelings. It was light, almost cheery, with moments of ecstasy, moments of sheer comfort.

Elliot Carter’s Reawaking, based on three poems by William Carlos Williams which he discovered while at Harvard in the 1920’s, was composed five years ago. It was introduced by a screened interview with Steve Stucky at Carter’s home, where he described how much the poetry meant to him, along with other important revelations.

For one thing, his love for Mozart was due to the brilliance of “how quickly he can move from one idea to an other. That’s my ideal in music too.” As to his compositional technique, “I just write the music from beginning to end, whatever I want to say.”

We should all have such simplicity in our lives.

Even more surprising, Carter’s piece did have that relative simplicity which made it a joy. The always exciting Michelle DeYoung executed the William Carlos Williams poetry with her deep rich mezzo soprano, easily up to the high notes of her range at those rare moments when Carter expressed a blatant emotion.

For the title poem, Ms. DeYoung was highly lyrical, the orchestra simply punctuating the delicate love lyrics. The second poem, a rather violent Lear was a virtual symphony for the entire percussion section, which illustrated lines like “Yesterday we sweated and dreamed or sweated in our dream, walking at a loss….”

The longest poem, Shadows was a lovely song about, yes, lights and darkness. Ms. DeYoung sung the moods with the ease of a Brahms lied, and the orchestral texture was equally comfortable.

While she is one of the world’s most accomplished mezzos, the Carter was more impressive than Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony. The piece can be almost thankless for most singers, since the Hebrew words are difficult enough, and Bernstein hints rarely at a “song” per se. Ms. DeYoung made the movement most beautiful—the words, though are anything but beautiful. Jeremiah was moodiest Prophet, preaching doom assuring his listeners that God would destroy Jerusalem if they didn’t come to their senses and stop their sinnin’.

None of these literal jeremiads made their way into Ms. DeYoung’s work. It was a nice movement, but hardly worthy of the sulphuric Prophet himself. Mr. Robertson conducted the other two movements well (I hadn’t realized that part of the second movement is a a first draft of his On The Waterfront music).

The opening work was Aaron Copland’s ballet Appalachian Spring. This was not particularly danceable, not even for Martha Graham. The tempos were more reflective, the orchestral solos more easy-going and transparent.

After the concert I had time to read the William Carlos Williams poems slowly, and realized that seven of the lines could have referred to the creations of Elliot Carter himself. Williams, in fact, does here with light what Carter in his life has done with notes:

“A man
 looking out,
      seeing the shadows—
            it is himself!
That can be painlessly amputated
      by a mere shifting
            of the stars”

Harry Rolnick



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com