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Odds and Sods

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
10/13/2000 -  
Leonard Bernstein: Symphony # 1
Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto # 1
Antonin Dvorak: Symphony # 8

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Rinat Shaham (mezzo-soprano)
New York Philharmonic
Leonard Slatkin (conductor)

This is such an important season for the New York Philharmonic that the events tend to run into one another. One sincerely hopes that it is a breakout season as well, with new personnel continuing to improve the level of professionalism of the ensemble. The programming this year is exceptional and, on paper at least, the stage of Avery Fisher promises to yield many fine concerts. Last evening seemed to be a housekeeping affair, with two of the works logical extensions of other week’s thematic pairings. The Phil always plays well for Leonard Slatkin and presented a high level performance of three disparate works with very different moods.

Exactly ten years ago today Leonard Bernstein died. His orchestra will soon be commemorating that event with a special concert featuring Itzhak Perlman and music director aspirant Mariss Jansons. Last evening Maestro Slatkin opened with Lenny’s Jeremiah Symphony, one of his many musical workings out of his Oedipal problem. Deadly and somber throughout, it is an exploration of the haftorah notation in the Ashkenazic dialect (a reference to his father’s Hebrew different from his own more modern Sephardic) that meanders through teenage angst and rebellion with none of the humorous devices in the more profound Trouble in Tahiti. The orchestra played movingly throughout, Glenn Dicterow’s violin solos especially noteworthy. Rinat Shaham should have been an inspired choice for the vocal line considering her fluency in Hebrew, however her relative inaudibility made her heritage moot. The piece is ultimately a dated expression of peevish juvenilia and perhaps a better subtitle would have been I Feel Angry.

No concert artist wraps herself more completely in the cocoon of a piece than Mitsuko Uchida. She has the ability to perform works as if they were being given their world premieres by their original composers. Extremely concentrated, her recitals are religious affairs known for their seriousness and uncompromising technique. It was thus a marvel to see her interpretation of the airy Mendelssohn. Bouncing onto the stage with a huge smile, she proceeded to visibly mouth the melodies of this enjoyable delicacy with great relish. Usually I sit on the left side of the hall for a pianist in order to observe their hands. On this night I sat on the right and had the great thrill of concentrating rather on this radiant woman’s face, the perfect emblem of the music at hand. Ms. Uchida has recently become the head of the Marlboro Music Festival and she is in many ways like Rudolf Serkin, the creator of her new position. He too was a highly intellectual pianist who espoused this buoyant concerto. What was especially striking about Ms. Uchida’s performance was her ability in the slow section to play several levels softer than pianissimo and still have us hanging on every magical note. Of course her presto was impeccable but she also infused the movement with a gentle barcarolle quality enhanced by her rocking body language. The entire experience could have easily seemed like just a leftover from the recent Mendelssohn Festival but in these wonderful hands it was more of a fabulous dessert.

After intermission Slatkin conducted the Dvorak 8 just for the sheer joy of it. The performance was very sharp, this fine conductor bringing out many inner voices and echoes in the brass although the corresponding reprises in the violas were swallowed whole by the Phil’s bizarre platform positioning. It was indeed a pleasure to hear the orchestra play so consistently well and makes one very hopeful that this season will be the one when the new music director is not only appointed but given a vehicle that he can pilot to new exalted heights. Lenny has been gone a long time now; it is appropriate for New York listeners to get on with their lives.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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