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The Logistics of Time

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
06/02/2011 -  & June 3, 4, 2011
Ludwig van Beethoven: Romance for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 50
Sebastian Currier: Time Machines (World premiere)
Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Carragan 2007 edition)

Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (Conductor)

Sebastian Currier’s position in the halcyon of contemporary composition is due neitherto harmonic or structural innovation, or stunning originality. But he is the only composer I have heard who brings our aesthetic sensibilities into the 21st Century.

This may sound sophistic, but his Time Machines, the second work he has written for Anne-Sophie Mutter, given its world premiere last night, is like a holographic set of variations. Linear variations–the stuff of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms–is easy enough to decipher. But Mr. Currier, taking a few notes from an opening movement, eschews what is obvious, and goes straight toward a quantum leap of space and time.

Ms. Mutter’s few pointed brisk almost bristly notes in the “fragmented time” opening follows with six “time movements” which charge ahead or are delayed as in an applied physics laboratory. Time is “delayed” now, a reverberation, a series of harmonic overtones, played with Ms. Mutter’s utterly silken lines. “Compressed time” doesn’t have a Webernian equation, but is quick as a whip (a real whip begins the movement!), while “overlapping time” sends these themes together, floating, passing each other, perhaps like atoms in a reactor.

“Entropic time” is the longest section, with chaotic overtones, Ms. Mutter not trying to straighten things out but enjoying the anarchy. In the penultimate “backwards time” Mr Currier assumes that we have been listening extremely carefully before, so we can spot the reversions. And in the final “harmonic time”, we come to a peaceful...well, not end...but at least a resolution.

One can listen carefully with the violinist in the lead (Mr. Currier himself is a violinist). But I chose to listen to the orchestra. This was not an “accompaniment.” Like the finest of modern painters, Mr. Currier has a variety of counterpoints in the background, instruments enjoying their own dialogues and intriguing conversations, as Ms. Mutter plunged ahead. Old computer language might call these “easter eggs” secret combinations which offer unexpected zest.

I once heard Mr. Currier’s Next Atlantis, a string quartet which morphed the sounds of water not like the literal Tan Dun “water concerto” but essence of water becoming music. Like this most fascinating Time Machines, he was not prepared to imitate mere water or mere machines, but, with the physicist’s imagination, give a zany look to mere structures of notes.

Ms. Mutter is always commendable to for playing new works, but one mustn’t forget that she is the most stunning violinist for the mainstream. In fact, her Beethoven Romance was exactly what the name says, lines which soared out from the violin, even silencing (at times), the interminable coughs of the audience.

Conductor Alan Gilbert wrote in the program that “there are few composers whose music I could conduct every day for the rest of my life.”, claiming Anton Bruckner to be one of them. To prove it last he took the rarely played Second Symphony, a 2007 edition based upon the Bruckner revision in 1877 of his original 1872 work.

Whew! I don’t doubt Mr. Gilbert’s declaration, and he did allow the Philharmonic to play some very beautiful music here. The medieval quality of the scherzo contrasted with the most utterly serene quiet sections of the finale.

Every section of the orchestra, notably the great brass choirs, were in top form. But 60 repeatedly Promethean minutes on a balmy Manhattan spring evening doesn’t quite jibe. Even with all the Maestro’s efforts, this is hibernal music best left for more monastic winters.

CODA: Not since Eisenstein and Prokofiev merged their genius into Alexander Nevsky has a film been as overpowering visully and musically as Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, which opened last week in New York. Not a film reviewer, I have no responsibility of describing the two stories–one growing up in 1950’s Texas, the other about the Creation of the Universe–but I can try to remember the faultless use of music.

Arsenije Jovanovic has credit as the film composer, but he has assembled–in all the right places–music by Berlioz (both Harold in Italy and parts of the Requiem), Respighi (from Ancient Airs and Dances), and Angela Hewitt playng the Couperin Barricades Mistérieuses. We have also music from Mahler’s First (a mere measure in the beginning, but much more towards the end) and then the “usual suspects” of Górecki, Preisner and Taverner.

Nothing has been chosen haphazardly. Alex Ross, who met Malick several years ago, noted recently his great knowledge. But anybody who saw how he transformed Saint-Saëns' “Aquarium” in Heaven’s Gate could understand that he could take the oft-played Moldau and give it a spiritual value.

Reportedly, Maestro Gilbert love movies in his rare spare time, and I feel that he–as well as all readers of ConcertoNet–will feel that same transmigration of musical soul in this oh so rare masterpiece.

Harry Rolnick



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