On Friday night, October 31, I skipped Halloween and instead went to the New York Philharmonic (seen in the above photo during the standing ovation at the end of the first half).
The concert was conducted by the great Leonard Slatkin (who conducted the Philharmonic the first time I saw Copland’s Third Symphony live).
It started off with Copland’s “El Salón México” and the brass was on fire (and the piece doesn’t even feature the full Philharmonic brass). It’s not one of Copland’s larger pieces, but quite delightful.
We got super cheap seats along the side of the second tier, where the sight lines at Avery Fisher Hall are actually pretty terrible. But there were plenty of open seats in the back. So, in between the first two pieces, while the orchestra did a little reset, we moved over there. It was much better.
Then came Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto, a piece with which I was unfamiliar. What a workout for soloist Robert Langevin! There are some wild moments in the piece, even some all-out dissonance, but others that are so lush (especially the strings) they just sweep you away. It was really something special and, at times, magical. The composer came on stage with Slatkin and Langevin during the applause.
After the intermission were two works by Ravel. The first was “Gaspard de la nuit,” with which I was unfamiliar. Slatkin actually gave a great introduction to the piece. He explained that Ravel was a famous orchestrator of both his own works and those of others. Perhaps the most famous is his orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” He was not the only one to orchestrate that. Leopold Stokowski also did an orchestration and if you know the Ravel version, it’s a very interesting listen. Anyway, back to Slatkin’s introduction, which noted that “Gaspard de la nuit” was one of Ravel’s piano works that the composer never got around to orchestrating. Marius Constant did this orchestration in 1988, about 51 years after Ravel’s death. To demonstrate the difference, they played excerpts from the first two movements. First, on solo piano and then with the orchestra. There is no piano in the orchestrated version and the grand piano was brought on stage just for this exposition and then rolled away before the performance proper started. Those who were familiar with the piece were asked to consider it all and whether or not an orchestration should even exist. To those of us hearing the piece for the first time, Slatkin said “I envy you.”
Finally, it was time for “Bolero,” one of the grandest adventures in orchestration ever created. At about 15 minutes, some call it the world’s longest crescendo. I was quite familiar with the piece, but had never seen it live in its entirety with a full orchestra. Hearing all of the individual parts and then hearing the first signs of them coming together was so cool.
There really is nothing like live music or hearing it from America’s oldest orchestra! I had a giddy smile and teared up and then went back to the giddy smile all in the space of about two hours.
– Evan Bindelglass
(Photo taken with iPhone 6)