More than a week after my return from vacation, I still feel like I'm in catch-up mode. (That's normal, actually; what's different here is that I wonder whether I'll ever catch up.) So instead of my usual wordiness, here are a few quick hits:
I still have fond memories of a Cleveland Orchestra concert led by Christoph von Dohnányi at Carnegie Hall in 2002 that featured Sibelius's Night Ride and Sunrise, Birtwistle's The Shadow of Night and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Clearly this is a cocktail recipe that works for the conductor, since his current run with the New York Philharmonic is a subtle variation: Birtwistle's Night's Black Bird, Sibelius's Violin Concerto and, once again, the Beethoven Fifth. The newer Birtwistle is a slighter variant of its predecessor, but it was still satisfying to hear its effects on the NY Phil: burnished strings, mysterious winds, aggressive brass. Those were good assets to have on hand for the Sibelius concerto: the orchestra's playing was magical. Nikolaj Znaider -- a bigger, taller man than I'd pictured from his svelte Sony photos -- was incredible in the most introvert and extrovert passages, and mostly solid in between, though there were definitely a few wayward passages. I don't make a habit of leaving concerts midway through, but I confess that I bailed on the Beethoven. [EDIT: I should make clear that my departure was due to workload and looming deadlines, not my response to the first half.] At least I had fond memories to lean on. Last time I heard Dohnányi conduct this piece (in 2002), I wanted to jump up and cheer after the first movement; last time I heard the NY Phil do it (or most of it, anyway, last summer in Central Park under Marin Alsop), a big chunk of the audience did exactly that.
On Tuesday night, I was at Zankel Hall for a concert by the Takács Quartet that deserves more detail than I'm going to give it here. (Get the rest from Tony Tommasini's review, which I'm refraining from reading until I type these next few lines.) The concept, devised by first violinist Edward Dusinberre, was to combine readings from the Philip Roth novel Everyman with suitable music by contemporary composers; pieces by Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass were selected. I'm not entirely convinced that ethereal Pärt and intellectual Glass meshed so well with Roth's earthy, sweat-stained grief and humor, though I'm not sure what would have better served this admirable concept. I will say, however, that the Takács players made the most of Pärt's misty medievalism, and invested far more emotional commitment into Glass's Company than anyone else I'd heard. My excellent concert companion, a professional gourmand whose training was in theater, didn't think actor Philip Seymour Hoffman seemed especially invested in Roth's texts, the three selections of which dealt with cemetaries and by extension mortality, nor prepared enough to deliver them in a meaningful manner. But kudos to the Takács players for thinking, imagining and stretching. The concert ended with a performance of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet filled to the breaking point with blood, sweat and passion. It was humbling.
I also ate a taco filled with dried grasshoppers prior to the concert, but perhaps that's a story for another time.
So: I wanted to call your attention to a snarky-in-the-right-way, eminently quotable mega-essay in book-review form by Richard Taruskin in the latest issue of The New Republic, which I picked up on the newsstand Monday night. A representative of the magazine even e-mailed me a convenient link to the article, unsolicited. But the sound and furious ACD has already beat me to the punch. (More on this, perhaps, when I've digested the whole article. The grasshoppers come first.)
And: Big fat love to everyone's favorite Friday Informer -- not to mention a valued Time Out New York contributor, a cherished concert companion and especially a dear friend -- who's been too modest to trumpet the fact that she's just won a prestigious ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for her writing.
Finally: Pliable notes the passing of Ursula Vaughan Williams, wife of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a musical Anglophile and a passionate lover of RVW's symphonies -- I'm the proud owner of five complete cycles (Boult 1, Previn, Handley, Thomson and Slatkin) and numerous individual issues, and believe it's the most overlooked, underestimated canon of the 20th century -- I can only concur with his salute.
Playlist in memoriam Ursula Vaughan Williams:
Thomas Tallis - "Why Fum'th in Fight"; Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Symphony No. 5; Serenade to Music - Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/Robert Spano (Telarc)
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphonies Nos. 2 and 8 - Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli (Dutton)
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 4 - BBC Symphony Orchestra/Ralph Vaughan Williams (Naxos)
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 6 - London Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult; A Song of Thanksgiving - Luton Choral Society, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult (Dutton)