Above: pianist Emanuel Ax in a Lisa-Marie Mazzucco portrait
~ Author: Oberon
Thursday November 30th, 2017 - The New York premiere of Bent Sørensen’s exquisite Evening Land shared the program with the Brahms 2nd Symphony and a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto #20 featuring soloist Emanuel Ax tonight at The New York Philharmonic. A few weeks ago, it had been announced that Edo de Waart would be conducting, replacing the scheduled Christoph von Dohnányi, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a fall.
This proved to be one of the most enjoyable evenings I have spent at the Philharmonic. The orchestra sounded phenomenal, and Maestro de Waart was at the top of his game: the Brahms literally sang to us in all its warmth and glory.
The world premiere of Bent Sørensen's Evening Land opened the program. Sørensen's music prompted his fellow-composer, Arne Nordheim, to say: "It reminds me of something I've never heard!"
Mr. Sørensen has just been announced as the winner of the 2018 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for music composition for his Triple Concerto, evocatively titled L’isola della Città ('The Island in the City'). And evocative is the perfect word to describe Evening Land.
The 23-minute-long work opens with the most ethereal ppp from Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples. Her control over this all-but-inaudible passage was nothing less than miraculous. Delicate strings flesh out the music somewhat; there are oozy, drooping motifs, and the music is chillingly soft. Rolling timpani (Markus Rhoten, if I am correct) and brass give way to anxious waves of sound, followed by a passage for snare drum and brisk strings. A big crescendo soon melts away.
A grim march-like rhythm takes over, then plucking strings and the xylophone give a pulse. A splendid and sustained ethereal passage for Ms. Staples and cellist Carter Brey - playing in his high register - is one of numerous engrossing moments in the score. Drooping restlessness is overtaken by higher-lying music, with xylophone chiming in. There are sarcastic sighs from the brass before a steady beat from the bass drum emerges. The music stalls, and calm sets in.
Yet another passage to savour came from the mingled voices of oboe (Liang Wang) and flute (Robert Langevin); then Ms. Staples again took up her whispered message. Evening Land ends with a long, slow fade-away.
Above: composer Bent Sørensen; photo by Lars Skaaning
I've rarely been so immersed in a new work; this music draws us into another world....a world I was actually loathe to leave. Mr. Sørensen joined Maestro de Waart and the musicians onstage for the applause. I'm now very curious to hear more of this composer's work, and would like to express a hope that the award-winning Triple Concerto might find its way into a Philharmonic program in the near future.
Emmanuel Ax was warmly greeted by the Philharmonic crowd as he made his way to the Steinway for the Mozart Piano Concerto #20. First performed on February 11th, 1785 - it was supposedly completed on the previous day - the concerto met with success, especially for the composer’s playing of the demanding solo part; Mozart was reportedly tweaking the orchestra parts an hour before the concert began.
The 20th is a perfect work, and its perfection was never more apparent than in tonight's performance. Mr. Ax has this music in his blood, and he played with both spirit and grace. Maestro de Waart and the Philharmonic artists did both Mozart and the piano soloist proud.
The first movement, Allegro, starts with orchestral motifs: brooding at first, then developing into a small tempest. It's a long delay for the pianist, but at last the Steinway is engaged over a quietly churning ensemble. Mr. Ax's playing had its characteristic sense of flow, and of impeccable dynamics: the feeling of a master of the keyboard at work prevailed throughout, and most impressively in the (Beethoven) cadenza which veers from the depths to the heights, turns wistful, then builds again upon a big upward scale. Scales rise and fall before sinking into a delightful trill.
The second movement is a Romanza, opening with an elegant piano solo; the strings then take over. A more animated minor-key passage leads onward to some gorgeous modulations before the original theme recurs. Again, Mr. Ax's playing shone lovingly at every dynamic level.
Taking only the briefest of pauses, the pianist then embarked on the concluding minor-key Rondeau; but soon the music turns almost jolly. A major/minor conflict follows as moods shift in the wink on an eye. In the big "Hummel" cadenza that ensues, Mr. Ax's playing had a lot of sparkle as he swept thru the festoons of notes. The concerto then moves inevitably towards a happy ending. Mr. Ax, beloved by the audience and onstage colleagues alike, received our sincere homage.
Maestro de Waart (above) returned to the podium after the interval for the Brahms 2nd Symphony. This was my second live hearing of this work and I've fallen in love with it. Maestro de Waart drew heartfelt playing from the orchestra tonight; his pacing was grand and at the same time graceful. Exceptional playing from the Philharmonic's wind soloists gave endless pleasure: Robert Langevin (flute), Anthony McGill (clarinet), Liang Wang (oboe), Judith LeClair (bassoon) and - I believe - Richard Deane (horn - he was hidden by a music stand) were all simply sumptuous.
Maestro de Waart, who some twenty years ago gave me a magical ZAUBERFLOETE experience at The Met, remains a musician-magician to cherish. I was so happy to have been at this performance.
The entire evening was a testament to the power of great music - and great musical artists - to draw us away from the woes of the world and into a higher realm.