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Welcome to America

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
04/13/2003 -  
Jane O'Leary: From Sea-Grey Shores
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto # 4
Johannes Brahms: Symphony # 1

John O'Conor (piano)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
Gerhard Markson (conductor)

“I sat in my place without moving a muscle or even breathing-
afraid of making the least noise!”

Robert Schumann, upon first hearing the
Piano Concerto # 4 in Leipzig

Although Lincoln Center goes out of its way to remind their audiences how rude it would be to pollute the air with unnecessary noises, even projecting a pre-concert message admonishing patrons about intrusive electronic devices, sometimes these warnings fall on decidedly deaf ears. One such occasion unfortunately and embarrassingly occurred yesterday afternoon as the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland made its initial appearance in New York and was buffeted for two hours by extraneous and unforgivable interruptions to their otherwise pleasing flow of melody and harmony. At least five cell phones rang during the performance of Jane O’Leary’s interesting and colorful curtain raiser and ambient crowd noise practically washed away her sea grey shores. All of this barbarity would have been lamentable enough, but the entire boorish experience was magnified by the presence of the composer in the audience. Smiling and gracious in her acceptance of applause, she must have been seething inside.

The fusillade of bad behavior settled down somewhat during the fine performance of John O’Conor in the Beethoven, partly due to disgusted patrons like me storming the battlements during the lull between pieces to point out this breach of etiquette to their neighbors. The pianist performed admirably, although his conception of the normally powerful concerto was rather too prettified for my taste, reminiscent of those who emphasize the Elvira Madigan side of the Mozart 21. The orchestra provided solid accompaniment, although their tutti sound is rather thin. The crowd appreciated the soloist enough for him to offer what would be a charming encore (the best single performance of the afternoon) of a nocturne by John Field, the composer most associated with Mr. O’Conor, the reigning dean of Irish pianism, but this moment was significantly marred by the ringing of yet another of those infernal cellular devices during the performer’s brief spoken introduction. To his credit, O’Conor tried to make a joke of the incident, however I doubt if deep down he was at all pleased with such a mood-breaker.

My companion and I moved to the back of the hall after the interval so that at least there would be no conversations behind us and were treated to an enhanced, more substantive sound emanating from the ensemble in the Brahms (although, to be fair, much of this may have been the result of Avery Fisher’s anomalous acoustics). There was much to admire in this performance, interpretive details highlighted and fleshed-out logically and with great clarity, however, this orchestra is perhaps not the ideal vehicle for such heavy Teutonic Sturm und Drang. I was especially pleased by two touches: there was a real crescendo/diminuendo at the very end of movement one (almost always ignored), and the purposeful slowing down before the final brass chorale was magisterial, although the anorexic quality of the sound itself was a bit off-putting. This was an atavistic reading of a great classic, emphasizing its sinewy quality, but also notable for fine lyricism in the strings and winds. Throughout, there were loud talkers, bag rattlers and noisy exiters who detracted significantly from the aesthetic totality. Overall, a solid and satisfying performance from the stage, perhaps considerably more than this ugly American crowd deserved.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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