Above: conductor Ludovic Morlot
Monday February 1st, 2016 - In surveys, music-lovers are often asked: "How did you hear about tonight's concert?" This evening's performance by The Curtis Symphony at Carnegie Hall came to my attention thanks to a postcard received in the mail; otherwise I'd never have known about it until it was too late. Two rather rare and unusual items on the program - by Busoni and Berio respectively - were a major inducement to attend, as was the opportunity to hear Mahler's 1st and to re-encounter conductor Ludovic Morlot. The offer of $25 seats (anywhere in the Hall) made the concert all the more attractive.
The young musicians of the Curtis Symphony are an attractive lot, and their sincere and passionate playing - observed from the fifth row - gave the evening a good impetus. We were so close to the violinists and I so enjoyed watching their technical agility and the vigor of their bowing in the more feverish moments. Individual personalities always managed to shine thru.
Ferruccio Busoni's Berceuse élégiaque was the opening work: a gorgeous if slightly ominous lullaby. Originally a solo piano work, Busoni orchestrated it in a sort of homage to his late mother. This evening, Conner Gray Covington - a conducting Fellow at Curtis) took the podium for this work and developed a dreamy, mysterious atmosphere. Celeste and harp are among the gentle voices heard in this evocative relatively brief piece, which fades away on the post-echo of a gong being struck.
Whether by plan or coincidence, the Luciano Berio Sinfonia which followed soon after begins with a muted gong. This work was commissioned by The New York Philharmonic on the occasion of their 125th anniversary. In addition to a large orchestra, the Sinfonia calls for eight singers who sing, declaim, whisper, or shout throughout much of the 1/2 hour-long piece. The singers were seated among the musicians; they wore head mics, and amplifiers were positioned at the lip of the stage. Still, the voices were often absorbed by the orchestra.
Conductor Ludovic Morlot marshaled the Curtis forces for a performance full of fascinating textures and liberally larded with references to other works and composers: a fleeting sonic glimpse of the Baron Ochs's "Mit mir...mit mir!" from ROSENKAVALIER made me laugh aloud. Both the singers and the players seemed wonderfully alert to each twist, turn, and nuance of the tricky and demanding score - special kudos to the pianist and percussionists - and the audience were clearly intrigued by what they were hearing. But then, as silence fell at the end, a cellphone went off at the worst possible moment. Undeterred, the crowd liberally applauded the work and its performance.
My overall impression of the Berio was certainly favorable - it's so quirky and unique - but I did feel it was a bit too long to sustain its originality.
After the interval, we were on familiar turf with Gustav Mahler's 1st symphony. Maestro Morlot's ardent affinity for this music was evident as he drew some exciting playing from the youthful players. There were random moments (very few) that didn't quite come off as one might have wished, but overall the level of playing was most impressive.
To me, this symphony is a slow-bloomer: it takes a while to ignite. But once it does, the flame is glowingly sustained: the second, third, and fourth movements are so thoroughly pleasing to experience, and I very much enjoyed observing the rapport between maestro and musicians tonight.
- Curtis Symphony Orchestra
Ludovic Morlot, Conductor
Conner Gray Covington, Conductor
Members of the Curtis Opera Theatre:
Emily Pogorelc, soprano
Alize Rozsnyai, soprano
Anastasiia Sidorova, mezzo-soprano
Kendra Broom, mezzo-soprano
Jean-Michael Richer, tenor
Evan LeRoy Johnson, tenor
Dennis Chemlensky, baritone
Johnathan McCullough, baritone
- BUSONI Berceuse élégiaque
- BERIO Sinfonia
- MAHLER Symphony No. 1