Between August 2 and August 9 I managed to hear three concerts at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. I could have gone to four and I actually regret missing the concert that I did. Mostly Mozart presents some amazing groups from here in New York and around the world. The concerts were all packed which made each one more vital and exciting but also made me think about what kind of butts were in those seats. Behind the Invectivator's mask lurks a lowly freelance musician, not Bruce Wayne. What that means is, I get comps, or else I have to decide whether I can afford to go to the concert. Some dear friends from The Chamber Orchestra Of Europe hooked me up with tickets to both of their concerts. I also went to hear The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and for that I had to pay. Cheap seats were 45. Next up 60. Next up...I don't know, I never looked, I wasn't going to pay it unless I had to. When I first looked for tickets, the 45 dollar ones were still available. But buying them online meant paying a "facility fee" of 3 dollars and a "service fee" of 7. Seven dollars! For the service of using the Internet! Same charge if you call. Apparently there's no way of avoiding the "facility fee" which I guess means paying for the building? I didn't realize that I'm paying for the renovation of Alice Tully Hall. Do I get a plaque or something? At least I can be confident that the "facility fee" will be removed once we've paid for the cost of the building. Wait. Apparently sarcasm doesn't work in print. Oh well. How about this? I wish they had consulted me if they were going to take my 3 bucks every time I went there because the hall doesn't sound better, it just sounds....different. Although it sure does look nicer and there's free wifi now. ANYWAY, you can beat the service charge by showing up at Lincoln Center. So I waited until I had time to go by the box office and I got jacked and had to buy the 63 dollar tickets. I told myself I had been gifted two tickets already so it worked out to 21 a show, but it still stung. So basically I realized I'm sitting with people who have way more money then I do. Maybe that's why they feel entitled to refuse to stand up when someone tries to squeeze by on the way to their seats. Or perhaps that's why it doesn't bother them to be harassed by an usher demanding to see your ticket (with CIA earpiece firmly in place) while you're on you way to the restroom. For some reason my blood boils every time I go to a concert up there. I'm sure it says more about me then it does about them, but I think with all the hand-wringing about attracting younger concert-goers in the media and the boardrooms, I'm starting to think that the two tribes of old and young just don't want to mix. The program of Bach/Mozart/Mendelssohn at 3pm? Lousy with old people. The 10pm concert of all Berio? You gotta beat those youngsters off with a stick. I personally love both of those kinds of concerts and I think I'm just going to have to accept the demographic of the respective audiences isn't likely to change any time soon.
So naturally with all this money and power and international talent crammed into one place, the New York Times was there.
On August 2 the C.O.E. played an all Beethoven program with Lisa Batiashvili as violin soloist and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
My inner self was a tempest of emotions. I was torn up about seeing my friends play, I was nervous/envious, The Eroica might be my favourite symphony of all time, I wanted to hear how they would team up with Séguin who I think is a real talent, a million things were rushing through my brain throughout the concert. Is this great violin playing? Is the Beethoven concerto inherently flawed? Are people enjoying it? Why are Kreisler's cadenzas standing out like great compositions right now? Why did he take that tempo? What's with the bow strokes at the upper half of the bow? Why is that incredible oboe player playing louder than the whole orchestra? Are those moves by Séguin helping the music or harming? Why are they pushing the Eroica symphony around? How do they sound so fucking good? That timpanist is amazing. Am I not enjoying this because I played this piece really recently and had a trans-formative experience doing so? Am I uptight? Am I stuck in my ways? Boy they sound really good. Will that guy remember my name when I go backstage after? Why did they take time there? Why did he push through that cadence? Is there a better cello section in any orchestra in the world? Why can't I let go and enjoy this more? Oh shit it's over.
I had a fascinating time at the concert hall. Maybe an informed critic could help me sort through my feelings?
Here's the Times review by James R. Oestrieich.
Here were the relevant points for me from the article:
1. The Artistic Director of Lincoln Center is soooooo smart.
2. Yannick Nézet-Séguin is really busy, he conducted two different orchestras in the same hall in one week.
3. The Eroica symphony was energetic. The orchestra also sounded good in the concerto but the soloist was boring. The audience loved it.
I mean read it yourself, there's much more to it than that, but that's what stayed with me after reading it. He seems to have shared my admiration for the cadenzas, and I always appreciate it when a critic says that the audience went wild even if he didn't enjoy the show. But is the most interesting thing about this week's concerts Jane Moss's ability to pick talent on the rise? Does anybody reading this review care? I'm asking, because I really don't know. When I go to a concert, I'm not thinking about the politics behind some one's appearance on the podium but maybe I should be?
Then I heard them again on Sunday August 5th. I came with a musician friend and she and I agreed that we heard one of the single best performances by an orchestra ever. Their Mendelssohn "Scottish" symphony blew my mind. It was emotional, it was on the edge, it was stylish, there were incredible solo turns by various wind instruments...in a word: awesome. They also played Mozart and Bach.
Here's the Times again:
Now I know I've busted Kozinn's balls on this blog before but this is a real review, by a thinking audience member. I don't agree with everything but I'll break it down for you again:
1. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe used to be polished but cautious.
2. Now they kick ass, and part of that ass-kicking we heard had to do with Séguin.
3. Here's one critic's learned opinion about what the Mozart, Bach and Mendelssohn sounded like.
Thank you Mr. Kozinn. You gave us a little background info, a little bringing us up to date on what's happening, and then a detailed analysis of what you heard. Is that so hard? It made me feel like I could approach him and have an interesting discussion about what we enjoyed and what we didn't. I feel like this was an excellent review. But since I put a dash of tangential truth-serum in my coffee this morning, I have to say that I might have the rose-coloured glasses on in retrospect because he wrote an absolutely fantastic article about John Cage which gets to the meaning of 4:33 like I've never read anyone do before:
I loved this article, it brought tears to my eyes (not because he mentions my quartet) but because it's very hard to explain what that piece and Cage is about and he does it succinctly and entertainingly. Personal, thoughtful, well-written, relevant...he hit it out of the park. So Allan Kozinn gets major bonus points from the Invectivator.
Finally, I went to hear the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Thursday the 9th. I had a terrible time. I know the symphonies they played intimately, perhaps too intimately, maybe even carnally, obsessively, I've been stalking them for years, leaving messages on their answering machine, texting, sending flowers...you get the idea, but even with my heightened expectations, I think anyone could have heard that this was a sloppy, rhythmically unstable performance, full of intonation and ensemble problems. I'm not saying it wasn't without it's charms, because there were some delightful moments but...here's the main man himself from the Times:
So basically he loved it. I'm not going to break this one down because it's pretty much all of one piece: The concert was supple and wonderful because of the connection between the conductor (Pablo Heras-Casado) and the orchestra and the magnificent playing of the piano soloist. I disagree. But at least when I read this, I can imagine engaging with Tommasini over tempo choices, or how the various characters of the music came out (or not). Now I can think of many reasons for his glowing review that aren't purely musical. He wishes there were more historically informed performance groups playing New York (so do I). He loves hearing rarities by the masters played by great pianists (so do I). He wants to support the Orchestra Of St. Luke's in their future with a new chief conductor (so do I). But that would be mind-reading. And I haven't taught myself that super-power. Yet. But I will make one guess as to why he enjoyed the concert so much more than I did. My 63 dollar ticket got me a seat in the balcony. I could barely make out all the smiling and eye-contact and swaying and going-for-it-ness of the performers, I could almost see that it was a mutual love-fest from orchestra to conductor and back again.
I'm dead certain Mr. Tommasini had a much better view.