Every day of the week is brilliant at Carnegie Hall. Everyone knows how you get there—PRACTICE!—and the dazzling array of soloists, orchestras, and ensembles beggars the imagination. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two very different events on consecutive Fridays. Here’s a tasty bite of each.
On Friday, October 27, Yuja Wang continued her Carnegie Residency in an ensemble with Martin Grubinger, a percussionist. He was joined by his father, Martin, Sr., who is also a percussionist, and who arranged the four pieces on the program, as well as by percussionists Alexander Georgiev and Leonhard Schmidinger, so we were in for a musical tour de force. Remembering Wang’s concert last season, I was prepared for her pyrotechnic brilliance. Each act began with a classic work, the first act with Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, arranged for four percussionists and piano, and it was brilliant. Those more familiar with Bartók’s musicological work will find his classical compositions reflective of his time. This piece was written in 1937 and you can hear the turmoil happening in the world outside within the music. The tonal range of the vibraphones, marimba, and other percussion instruments, literally in concert with the piano, was textured, nuanced, and we saw this piece very differently. It was followed by John Psathas One Study from 2005, and the contrast is evident–the percussion renders the piano a thrumming lower-register feeling, rather than being consciously audible. The thrum of acoustic drum and throaty vibes with a lavish jazz-infused piano inspired thought. The first act was, for me, about Intellect, and the second, about Sex and primal forces.
The second act began with an arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s “Le sacre du printemps” (Rite of Spring), and the percussion adds a drive that transcends our veneer of civilization to strike at the Jungian shared memories that lie deep within us all. The percussionists, with their overtones in acoustic drums and vibraphones, combine with the clearer voice of the piano to create aural magic, with the ensemble appearing to create the music, spinning it from the collective memory and releasing it again to the world, and appearing to set the stage for Arturo Márquez’s Danzón Number Two, in its New York Premiere, taking Leticia Gómez-Tagle’s arrangement for solo piano as the starting point. When would you ever imagine that Stravinsky’s piece would be the most familiar on a program? Yet the sultry mystery of Márquez’ louche Latin rhythms became a passionate and gorgeously figured tapestry of experience. Speed increases to breakneck, then scales back to a lyric flowing feel, tinged with passion, much like a love making session giving the affect of Frédéric Chopin meeting Astor Piazzolla.
Wang’s residency is about her talent, to be sure, but her graciousness as part of an ensemble, where it would be supremely easy for a piano to stand out among percussion, was clearly about the blend. Rather than remaining separate, Wang and Grubinger duetted on their encore, then brought the rest of the musicians out for their well-earned accolades. Wang has whetted our musical appetite for what more she has in store.
How does Carnegie follow such a brilliant concert?—with the American Composers Orchestra (ACO) Phenomenal Women performance on November, highlighting three modern women composers–Joan Tower, Valerie Coleman, and Alex Temple. Each of these women cuts a dashing figure among modern composers and being able to hear them together was truly a gift indeed.
Tower began composing for larger orchestral ensembles with a commission originally from ACO and Tower’s “Chamber Dance,” a piece from 2006, began this amazing concert. While composed originally for the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, the piece provides a surprisingly intimate experience for ACO’s more robust implementation. Tower’s vision of the interaction of the musicians, as reminiscent of dance, makes this a sparkling warp and weft of beauty, as each part of the orchestra changes partners among solos, duets, and trios nearly as often as in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, even as the beauty is seen as part of the larger whole. Tower celebrated her 80th birthday in September, and we are looking for more vitally beautiful work to come.
Coleman spent more than 20 years as the flutist for the ensemble Imani Winds, having founded the ensemble in 1997, so when she was writing the Phenomenal Women wind quintet, she would dedicate it to Imani Winds, as her swan song with the group. Beginning with “Maya Angelou,” which is an ensemble movement, each succeeding movement features a solo for each one of the instruments in the quintet. Movement II, “Katherine Johnson,” commemorates the NASA Mathematician, who made rocket launches happen, and features a Morse code figure in the oboe solo that spells out “Hidden Figures,” while every aspect of the rocket is heard in the movement. Movement III is “Serena Williams,” and you can hear the sound of her signature, pre-serve bounce, as well as the movement of the ball among the ensemble, while her grace and athleticism is reflected in the dazzling bassoon solo. Movement IV is “Caravana,” whose flute solo is dedicated to the mothers who endure hardships unknown to bring their children to what they hope will be a better place. Movement V uses the French horn to provide the gravitas and graciousness that “Michelle Obama” brought to one of the most visible jobs in the land. Finally, Movement VI highlights the brilliance of two-time Olympic Gold Medal boxer “Claressa Shields” and the clarinet solo speaks volumes of her achievement and continuing struggle all, while celebrating this handful among a world of phenomenal women currently here and those yet to come.
Temple’s sense of humor and wry dystopian imagination bring darkness and light together in “Three Principles of Noir.” Vocalist, cellist, and composer in her own right, mezzo soprano Meaghan Burke flexed her acting chops to bring this modern day cycle of performance art meets art song to brilliant life as we experience time travel, Raymond Chandler-esque derring-do, and the predation of beings more powerful than ourselves, even if they have feet of clay.
And all of this happened in less than two hours on Friday evening, November 2! Experiencing brilliance from beginning to end, we had a lot to think about, walking out into the rainy late Fall evening—and much to consider for the future.
Get your tickets now for what is yet to come by visiting: https://www.carnegiehall.org/Events
. We’ll see you there!