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Work in Progress

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
03/22/2000 -  
Alexander Scriabin: Poem of Ecstasy
Serge Prokofieff: Concerto # 3
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony # 6

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
New York Philharmonic
Valery Gergiev (conductor)

My local print colleagues and I have a difficult time with the New York Philharmonic. The performances have been so pedestrian for so long that we are all in danger of our reviews seeming as tired as the performances that they are designed to judge. There are only so many ways to express the same old disappointment (my latest favorite is "not technically tidy", which appeared recently in the Times) and yet we as reporters cannot improve the product with our flowery prose. Only the combined heads of the conducting revolving door can force any meaningful change on this recalcitrant body. One of the most promising guests at Avery Fisher is the indefatigable Valery Gergiev, who this Saturday will conduct the orchestra in their matinee concert of Hindemith and Tchaikovsky and then sprint across the plaza to mount Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in the evening. But even high energy and implied terror cannot always produce a quality night in the concert hall.

Actually the orchestra gave a good effort in this mixed program. The usually unreliable trumpets were sterling in the Scriabin, but the overall weak string sound left this listener far from the throes of ecstasy. Wobbly clarinets at the beginning of the Prokofieff portended a weak reading and yet the night was saved by the truly impressive Mr. Andsnes, a youthful Norwegian with solid technique and boundless enthusiasm. While we were rapt with the talents of this young man, I was disappointed overall in the lack of bite in the orchestra. Humor is a difficult orchestral mask and even the greatest of ensembles often do not have it in their sights. At this level, the sardonic qualities of the enfant terrible were just plain nonexistent. I felt for Gergiev as he gestured for effects that simply never came.

The Beethoven was particularly colorless, the streams dried up and the cuckoos asthmatic. There was also a strange imbalance which allowed us to hear every harmony in the horn section replacing the expected melodic line. The strings again were flaccid and the thunderstorm benign. There is much work to do in this pit but, like most seemingly interminable New York construction projects, there seems to be little end in sight.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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