By Edward Kliszus
Expectations are particularly high for an audience assembled to experience Grieg’s acclaimed Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 (1868). Dedicated to pianist Edmund Neupart, it portrays Grieg’s love of nature, expressing through soaring romanticism affection for his native Norway and its music. Having written the concerto at age 24 while on a summer countryside vacation, it is described by Grieg’s biographer Richard H. Stein as “all Norway in its infinite variety and unity”. Stein compared the adagio to a “lonely mountain-girt tarn which lies dreaming of infinity.” The premiere was attended by international music luminaries like Neils Gade and Anton Rubinstein.
The Orchestra Now (TŌN) percussionist Miles Salerni provided a personal, charming and informative introduction to the Grieg work. Franz Liszt once performed the work prima vista, acclaiming its genius and beauty while providing Grieg with suggested modifications. Grieg edited this work throughout his life with the final version completed just weeks before his death. That version is performed tonight. Salerni noted the concerto’s fame is matched by Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Op. 23, incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play of the same name. He cued a bassoonist to perform the familiar Hall of the Mountain King theme. This means of familiarizing audiences with music and musicians elicits memories of Leonard Bernstein’s delightful practice of speaking from the conductor’s podium. Salerni’s insightful comments were well received.
Conductor Fabio Luisi followed pianist Alessandro Taverna to the stage and the concert began with a captivating, momentous descending piano flourish and ascending arpeggios utilizing the full range of the concert grand piano. Luisi’s conducting was precise, expressive, and effective in leading the orchestra. Taverna’s performance was masterful and particularly vital in the exciting closing Quasi presto – Andante maestoso segments.
After intermission, contrabassist Luke Stence introduced Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 (1877) and cued the bass section to perform passages from the work. Citing the challenges of shifting multiple octaves in a passage using a triplet motif he calculated he played at the speed of 1,600 notes per second! This prompted sympathetic chuckling.
Conductor Fabio Luisi raised his baton, deftly sharing and expressing the Symphony’s Viennese Gemütlichkeit congeniality. The orchestra captured the idyllic tranquility emanating from Brahms’ soporific time in Pörtschach am Wörthersee lake country in Austria, expressing the remarkable lyricism of the opening movement (Allegro non troppo, D major, ¾) featuring horns and woodwinds on the primary theme. Violins transported a subsidiary theme before a second contemplative sentimental subject appeared in the violas and cellos. French horns conjured shadowy woodland scenes from ancient times.
In the second movement (Adagio non troppo, B major, 4/4) we are drawn into the romantic, elusive character of the work. In the third movement (Allegretto grazioso, quasi andantino, G major, ¾) oboes engaged, accompanied effectively by clarinets, bassoons, and pizzicato arpeggios by the cellos. The inventive finale (Allegro con spirito, D major, 2/2) is set in sonata form and reminisces themes expressed earlier in the work. Dynamic and energetic, its brilliant conclusion brought the audience to its feet.
This program fit perfectly the mission of preserving values and traditions of orchestral music for future generations. The orchestra’s youthful members performed with enthusiasm and passion, expressed the work’s pathos while effectively articulating complex musical ideas.
This was a most enjoyable venue providing a prelude to an incredible upcoming schedule.
The Orchestra Now series continues its spring season with Verdi’s Requiem April 6 and April 7, and Virgil Thomson’s De Profundis, Joachim Raff’s Psalm 130: De Profundis (U.S. Premiere), Lera Auerbach’s De Profundis (Violin Concerto No. 3) (U.S. Premiere) and Lili Boulanger’s Psalm 130: Du fond de l’abîme (De Profundis) April 27 and April 28 featuring internationally acclaimed violinist Vadim Repin, as well as EMI recording artist, soprano Elizabeth de Trejo. Call 845-758-7900 or click here for tickets ranging from $25-$35. Concerts are held at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, Sosnoff Theater, 60 Manor Avenue, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 19, TŌN presents the New York premiere of Morton Feldman’s lesser-known early orchestral work, Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein. Ticket range from $1-$50. For tickets call 212-570-3949, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here.
Runtime is about 90 minutes plus intermission.