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May 21, 2010

Bingo!

Sometimes everything in a concert comes together at once, and you feel you've been treated to the perfect musical experience.  That happened to a number of us at Carnegie's Zankel Hall on Monday, May 10, when John Adams (yes, that one, the major American composer) conducted three pieces played by the brilliant young Ensemble ACJW and the even more brilliant pianist Jeremy Denk.

The evening started with Adams's own Son of Chamber Symphony, a quirky, lively, deeply appealing combination of offbeat newness and tributes to old dance numbers. (If you've seen Mark Morris's Joyride performed by the San Francisco Ballet, you've heard this Adams score:  it's the music he wrote specifically for that 2007 dance.)  From there, the concert moved on to Stravinsky's riveting Concerto for Piano and Winds, with Denk playing the enormously difficult and affecting piano part.  Between these two, Adams and two musicians from the Ensemble chatted onstage about the program and its players--an informal way, as Adams pointed out, of getting us through the lengthy scene-changes that inevitably accompany programs of hyper-modern music.  The chat was very useful, too:  partly because it alerted us similarities between the various composers' musical strategies, and partly because it made Zankel Hall feel about the size of a living room.

And then, after the intermission, came Louis Andriessen's De Staat, a 1976 piece loosely based on Plato's Republic and featuring four powerful female soloists, two electric guitars and an electric bass, two harps, and a lot of very loud winds and brass. In fact, everyone was very loud in De Staat, but instead of being an unadulterated wall of sound (as one might have feared from the preliminary reports), the music turned out to be highly modulated, successively more intense, and, by the end, extremely moving. If I have objected to Zankel in the past, it is mainly on the grounds that you can sometimes hear the subway during the quiet parts of the music; but since there were no quiet parts to this music, the hall and the performance for once suited each other perfectly. 

The entire audience was thrilled to be there, and this was an audience that really knew its stuff, ranging from other musicians (the cellist Fred Sherry was sitting two rows in front of me) to new-music fans, professional music critics, and general music enthusiasts of all ages.  The applause at the close of the concert wasn't the only signal of delight; there were also the gratified expressions on everyone's faces, performers included.  Normally, I would rush to review a program like this the morning after it occurred.  But in this case I waited for 10 days because I wanted to see if the post-concert thrill would last longer than the normal 24 hours.  And it has.
May 21, 2010 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)

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