Above: violinists Frank Huang and Sheryl Staples of The New York Philharmonic
~ Author: Oberon
Wednesday June 6, 2018 - For their final subscription performance of the 2017-2018 season, The New York Philharmonic presented a program of beloved works by Mozart and Tchaikovsky. The orchestra's Concertmaster, Frank Huang, led his colleagues, whilst his usual neighbor, Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples took center stage to play the 3rd violin concerto of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Some people scoff when they see Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik listed on a concert program. Yes, it is thrice-familiar, but it's such fun music to hear, especially when played like the Philharmonic strings played it tonight.
Ms. Staples, a favorite of ours, then appeared for the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 in which her accustomed clarity of sound and immaculate technique held the packed house in a state of awe. After the first movement, my companion and I felt and irresistible urge to applaud, but we were able to restrain ourselves. Then the same thing happened after the Adagio. Finally, at the concerto's end, the audience unleashed waves of applause for Ms. Staples, calling her back for a second solo bow.
This G-Major work marked the only appearance this evening of musicians other than the string players: Mozart calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, and horns which add appealing colours to the layered strings. Ms. Staples played the opening Allegro with lovely attention to detail and sweeping command of the melodic passages, her tone ever-lovely. The Sam Franko cadenza was most gracefully turned, with just the right sense of dramatic nuance.
The luminous rising violin theme of the Adagio developed into a sublime listening experience, offering a transfusion of beauty and hope so desperately needed in these troubled times. Ms. Staples' playing of the gracious Franko cadenza here kept the house in a state of pin-drip silence. Mozart then provides one last return to that enchanting opening theme. The concluding Rondeau, deliciously played, capped Ms. Staples' captivating performance; the prolonged applause which greeted her was richly deserved, and she moved among her fellow players, shaking hands with them - a beautiful Philharmonic moment.
Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings is probably the music I have heard played live more than any other, mainly in the context of watching Balanchine's ballet Serenade which is set to this music. Balanchine reversed the order of the work's two final movements to give his ballet a poignant rather than an upbeat ending. It's always a bit of an adjustment to hear it come scritto.
We're so used to hearing this music played from the pit; it was really a pleasure tonight to actually watch the musicians playing onstage: the rhythmic shifts, the exciting pizzicati motifs which can sink to pianissimo, the glamorous sight of the Philharmonic cellists drawing their bows in unison to sing the simply gorgeous melodies Tchaikovsky has given them, the profoundly deep richness of the basses which reach the soul to stirring effect. It was one of my favorite Philharmonic experiences of recent seasons.
The fast passages of the concluding Allegro con spirito were taken at a pace that even Balanchine's speed-demon dancers could never have kept up with: truly exhilarating. As the applause swept on, Mr. Huang asked each string section to rise as a group while single red roses were handed up to the players.