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Springing Ahead to the Next NY PHIL BIENNIAL

National Sawdust NY PHIL BIENNIAL NY Philharmonic

We know it’s still February, but spring is on the horizon, and with it The New York Times Spring Preview, which has made it clear that thoughts are already on the second NY PHIL BIENNIAL. As the Times says:

“Few of Alan Gilbert’s initiatives as the New York Philharmonic’s music director have been as ambitious, and as successful, as the NY Phil Biennial. It’s not just an extended immersion in contemporary music — that would be admirable enough — but also an endeavor that connects the orchestra with a range of spaces and cooperating organizations. … The emphasis on youthful performers during the biennial is heartening. … It all promises to be a welcome burst of energy.”

Check out the full piece here, and stay tuned for NY PHIL BIENNIAL updates.

New Concertmaster Frank Huang 'Takes Starch Out of Orchestra Attire' in N.Y. Times

Frank Huang New York Philharmonic

When Frank Huang starts as Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic in September, if he looks more cool and relaxed than you expect, it may be that his tuxedo shirt stretches and breathes like an Under Armour athletic shirt.

(It may also be that he’s a pretty cool and relaxed guy, especially for such an exceptional talent and technician.)

Huang was featured in a piece in yesterday’s New York Times about Coregami, a new company that offers a men’s tuxedo shirt designed for orchestra musicians (above, at left).

The company was founded by Kevin Yu, a Texas businessman/violinist. Huang, who comes to the Philharmonic from the Houston Symphony, was one of the friends and colleagues to whom Yu gave a prototype.

“Huang said that playing the violin could be an ‘athletic endeavor,’” the article said, “and that it had been good to test out a shirt that had been designed for flexibility and comfort. ‘You can move around as a musician,’ said Mr. Huang.”

See Huang in action when he performs his first solo turn, in R. Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, Sept. 25–26!

Religious or Not, 'Bach Makes You Believe in Something,' Lisa Batiashvili Says in Preview of Apr. 8–11 Concerts

Lisa Batiashvili The New York Times NY Philharmonic

"People are religious or not, but Bach makes you believe in something, and for sure," Artist-in-Residence Lisa Batiashvili told The New York Times.

She only recently recorded Bach — "after a long period of awe-struck distance." That's one reason her concerts on April 8–11, her final ones as Artist-in-Residence, will be special, because she will play Bach's sublime Concerto for Violin and Oboe. Another reason? The oboist is her husband, the "marvelous" François Leleux. They will also perform a new concerto, inspired by and quoting Bach's, by the French composer Thierry Escaich. Alan Gilbert conducts the concert, which closes with Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony.

Lisa's New York recital debut was last night, at Alice Tully Hall. Her partner was pianist Paul Lewis, who made his Philharmonic subscription debut last season. 

The New York Times wrote that the recital showed they were "perfectly matched .... Neither has a willful musical ego that needs to be tempered in a duo. Neither takes great liberties. Each has a subtle eloquence that never devolves into monotony or showmanship."

(Photo: Chris Lee)

Thomas Adès's Totentanz a 'Glimpse of Future of Symphonic Music,' New York Magazine Says

New York Magazine Thomas Ades NY Philharmonic

"If you'd like a glimpse of the future of symphonic music — or if you just want to know what devilish majesty the New York Philharmonic will shortly unleash — this two-year-old YouTube video from the Proms in London is a good place to start. It shows the world premiere of Thomas Adès's Totentanz (Dance of Death), which the Philharmonic will perform March 12 through 14," wrote Justin Davidson in New York Magazine.

The critical buzz anticipating these performances, conducted by Adès himself, extends to The New Yorker's Alex Ross, who wrote that Adès is "securely established as a modern master, each new piece assuming the trappings of an event."

In The New York Times, William Robin wrote a piece titled "They're Always Stealing His Stuff" about Adès's huge influence on younger and middle-aged composers such as Andrew Norman and Caroline Shaw. He wrote, "Based on a grim 15th-century frieze, Totentanz is far from the uproarious polystylism of Asyla, though it shares its balance of the lyrical and the unsettling."


The Wall Street Journal's Pia Catton did a piece on Adès and Totentanz on March 10. She quotes soprano Christianne Stotijn: 

“Sometimes it’s an ecstasy of panic, especially when they don’t want to die,” said Ms. Stotijn, describing the music. “You have grown-up characters who react like children. You have a knight who acts like a hero. It’s full of color.”

To portray such a variety of characters, Mr. Adès employed a wide range of nontraditional instruments, such as a standard referee’s whistle with which Death controls the proceedings.

“When he blows his whistle, you have to stop what you’re doing,” said Mr. Adès.

Also onstage are snake rattles, whips, ratchets and bamboo canes. “I’ve gone to town with the percussion,” he said, in order to have instruments that people in the 15th century might have had. “The bones and the clappers and things that can be bashed together.”

Which Philharmonic Offerings Made The New York Times, New York Magazine, NPR Best of 2014 Lists?

NY Philharmonic What's New

Some critics' Top Classical Music Events of 2014 roundups are in! We are honored that shout-outs went to: 

Sweeney Todd, from March (New York Magazine)

Marino Formenti’s Liszt recital as part of the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, from June (New York Magazine and The New York Times, with Chief Music Critic Anthony Tommasini of the latter applauding “Alan Gilbert’s vision” and calling the biennial “a tremendous accomplishment.” But really, kudos go to our friends and partners at Great Performers at Lincoln Center for spearheading that intimate evening.

Modern Times from September (The New York Times) 

We made the Times’s other lists as well, including — no joke — the Funniest, from April: “Back-row players of the New York Philharmonic also took the spotlight … when the trombonist Joseph Alessi … and the bassist David J. Grossman joined the Japanese jazz pianist Makoto Ozone for an encore. … In Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic has a conductor who knows how important it is to let musicians play, in both senses of the word.”

And another offers a nice holiday gift idea! NPR Music’s Deceptive Cadence picked the CD of Nielsen’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4, released in September, as one of the Best Classical Albums of 2014.

Critics Hail CONTACT! Hosted by John Adams

CONTACT! John Adams NY Philharmonic

On Monday’s season premiere of CONTACT!, our new-music series, Philharmonic cellist Nathan Vickery was “formidable,” violinist Anna Rabinova “played brilliantly,” and the entire ensemble was “impressive,” according to The New York Times. 

Feast of Music joined the applause, writing of the program hosted by American composer John Adams: “The Phil musicians really showed their chops here, with crisp, clean playing and beautiful, clear sustains. As good and vital as all the young NYC new music groups are, CONTACT’s raison d’être has never been more clear.” 

Check out the rest of this season’s music from the cutting edge.

(Photo: Mike DiVito)

'Gilbert, Philharmonic at Their Finest in Carl Nielsen': A Roundup of Reviews

Alan Gilbert NY Philharmonic

In a review of the latest in our “welcome airings” of music by Nielsen, part of a multiyear effort called The Nielsen Project, The New York Times wrote (of Wednesday's concert):

The players clearly share Mr. Gilbert’s enthusiasm for the composer, conveying the music with a commitment and attention to detail that rendered the Fifth [Symphony] an exciting traversal of contrasting moods. … The enigmatic clarinet solo at the end of the first movement was beautifully rendered by Marc Nuccio. The dramatic finale, with skittish winds and subdued strings, contrasted with passages of blazing fury, unfolded with mesmerizing force.

In, Harry Rolnick wrote

Some of us wore our “I Heart Nielsen” badges with utmost pride. But the conductor didn’t need a badge. He conducted the Maskarade overture like it was a circus parade. ... Mr. Gilbert ... leaped and jumped, cued in everybody, and showed a physical enthusiasm for the composer which — even for the unsuspecting audience — was unavoidably infectious. ... 

He conducted the very polarized Fifth Symphony with bravado, with stern attention to the percussion and wind solos, and those countless fugues, with as much transparency as possible. Mr. Gilbert certainly has the orchestra to make these variegated moods live. After all, Leonard Bernstein had the same love for Nielsen. But his recordings of the Fifth, while rich and broad, didn’t even attempt when the conductor did last night. ... Mr. Gilbert made certain that the music rose above the polarity of emotions, he balanced the grand murals with the eccentric solos.

But it was in the Sixth Symphony that Mr. Gilbert gave a performance I could never even imagine. ... The second movement, called Humoreske, is played usually as a debonair parody. Mr. Gilbert decided to make it a full-fledged attack. ... For the introduction, he spaced out the different solos–triangles, drum tapes, wind notes– them over the orchestra. After that, Mr. Gilbert rode the orchestra like it was a mad bull ... 

Reviewing the same concert in New York Classical Review, Amanda Angel wrote, of the Fifth Symphony:

Gilbert set principal percussionist Christopher Lamb on the rest of the Philharmonic, and he relentlessly staged an attack with a variety of dynamics. Sounding at once like a drum major and a rain of bullets, the drumming kept the piece spontaneous and troubling. In a clever bit of stagecraft, Lamb, receded off stage, as Anthony McGill, the orchestra’s new principal clarinet (who will play the solo part of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto to finish the cycle this January), played a wistful idyll to close the movement. The tension continued through the second movement with a series of roiling tempests, relentlessly pounding timpani, repetitive motifs, and a heroic effort by the horn section.

(Photo: Chris Lee)

Critics Praise 'Terrific' Mahler–Unsuk Chin Concert

Alan Gilbert Kari Kriikku NY Philharmonic 

“I have seldom heard the score [to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1] played with more rhythmic vigor, incisive attack and surging energy, especially in the finale, in which Mr. Gilbert drew brassy, triumphant playing from the Philharmonic. The audience responded with an ardent standing ovation,” New York Times Senior Music Critic Anthony Tommasini wrote of Tuesday’s concert.

Tuesday’s was the first of four performances of Mahler’s First and Unsuk Chin’s Clarinet Concerto with Kari Kriikku (at left above) as soloist.

Chin’s “haunting” concerto received a “vivid, colorful and technically stunning account,” he added. “The concert was terrific.”

In the Financial Times, George Loomis wrote, of the finale of the Mahler:

"Gilbert unleashed its manic outbursts within a cogently organised framework. Earlier he found an apt balance between the work’s mysteries and its gentle expressions of lyricism, as in the first movement. ... the orchestra played brilliantly, from rich, chorale-like brass statements to the lone string bass’s shadowy statement of the “Frère Jacques” theme."

(Photo: Chris Lee)