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 :



Heir Apparent

New York
Carnegie Hall
10/24/2000 -  
Anton Webern: Variations for Orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Johannes Brahms: Symphony # 2

The artist formerly known as Nigel Kennedy (violin)
Philadelphia Orchestra
Roberto Abbado (conductor)

Three of the big five American orchestras are currently in the mire of a search for a new music director and much has been written recently about the directions that each should take. New York made overtures to Riccardo Muti but found that the reasons that he left Philadelphia for his native Italy were still intact and he only wanted to conduct in town for a very, very short interval each season. The City of Brotherly Love lost the Simon Rattle sweepstakes when it timorously asked him to be involved in fundraising and, rather than eat rubber chicken, he opted for the Philharmonie. Now Boston is also in the fray and so any competent conductor with major holes in his schedule is being pursued with a vengeance. Basically these men fall into two categories: the faintly acceptable and the virtually unknown. Philosophically the argument centers around the desirability of an experienced generalist versus a young lion; a safe bet or a roll of the dice. Emerging as the frontrunner in both New York and Philadelphia now is Christoph Eschenbach, an energetic and idiosyncratic maestro who dresses hip and has that Teutonic name so important for American civic pride. On short notice, he has agreed to take over for Kurt Masur in the early weeks of November while the outgoing kappellmeister has some minor surgery. I had the opportunity to hear Herr Eschenbach in Houston two years ago. He made major strides with that provincial orchestra and was a darling of the community. Although his celebrity is minimal, he may be the only applicant left with even a hint of star quality. Two lesser-known lights will probably end up with key posts. One, David Robertson, has experience with IRCAM and is rumored to be a finalist in Philly. The other brought the fabulous Philadelphians to Carnegie Hall last night in a kind of "We Bombed in New Haven" event.

Roberto Abbado has an impeccable pedigree. His father was a distinguished concert pianist and his older brother a well-respected conductor in Vienna, Chicago and Berlin. The unspoken hope in Philadelphia is that, if given the chance, he could resurrect the glory days of Muti just in time for the new concert hall on the renamed "Avenue of the Arts". For his New York audition he presented a varied program with decidedly mixed results.

In the seven years during which he existed under Nazi rule, Anton Webern heard a grand total of five minutes of his music in concert performance and had to leave the country in order to do so, journeying to Switzerland in 1943 to attend a reading of his Variations for Orchestra under Scherchen. This is the composer at his most playful as the two-measure theme is presented in many differing guises filled with palindromes and retrograde inversions making the score as much of a treat for the eye as for the ear (it's amazing that Webern could keep his sense of humor through these awful times). The variations do not contain the seeds to expand on the simple theme as, for example, does the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini written just six years before by Rachmaninoff. Rather, they serve up a platter of fully ripened miniature fruits, designed to be swallowed and relished whole. Unfortunately, Signor Abbado seems unfamiliar with the idiom of the Second Viennese School and led a raggedy performance plagued by intonational errors and poorly sustained individual notes. Even usually reliable concertmaster David Kim came a cropper in this piece which nakedly highlights solo lines and the generally spotty coordination served as an early indictment of the current job applicant's abilities. After all, this was the piece prepared especially by him, the Brahms and Beethoven hardly needing much prompting for such an experienced ensemble. Humor is an elusive quality in music and in this reading was simply nonexistent. The orchestra proved last season that it was indeed conversant with the language of the 20th century; somehow this was not translatable under this particular baton.

After a reasonably well-balanced accompaniment to Mr. Kennedy's surprisingly dull Beethoven (this piece can really be a big snooze without any excitement from the violinist), Abbado either led or followed his forces in a satisfying Brahms II. Here the marvelous Philadelphia sound shone through, Nolan Miller providing extremely beautiful horn solos and the celli warm and lustrous in the second movement. I was quite taken with the broad phrasing throughout but wonder how much of it was input from the aspirant and how much is just there for the taking. Although they are currently the finest orchestra in America, it is vital for the Philadelphians to preserve their heritage with an exceptional leader. For me, at least, the search still continues.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com