Collected Stories « PREV | NEXT »: Mind-Blowing Yurrup

October 11, 2010

Cross-Country Criticism

October started, for me, with a frantic cross-country dash in both directions.  I flew from New York to Berkeley purely to catch Mark Morris's new dance, Socrates, which is set to Erik Satie's music of the same name.  (I had missed its February premiere at BAM because I was back in Berkeley at the time, and I was damned if I was going to be on the wrong coast twice.)  As it turned out, the new piece was, as everyone had told me, one of Morris's most beautiful works--at once deceptively simple and incredibly complicated, with fifteen dancers deployed in every possible combination, using mimetic gestures and graceful dance moves as well as purely sculptural poses, all done with a finely tuned sense of musicality and flow, and all adding up to a tremendous emotional impact.  "Why is this so moving, in ways that go beyond the Platonic tale about Socrates' death and even the gut-wrenching combination of tenor and piano?" I kept asking myself, and I still don't have the answer. 

And then, after two nights at Zellerbach Hall, I got on a plane and flew straight back to New York, where I was just in time to catch Gustavo Dudamel's concert at Carnegie Hall, with Yo Yo Ma and the Vienna Philharmonic.  I had seen Dudamel only once before, a couple of years ago, when he conducted the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, the Venezuelan group out of which he arose--and though I was impressed with his energy and enthusiasm at the time, I was not overwhelmed.  Either he has changed or I have (or maybe the Vienna Philharmonic, as a sharply honed tool, is better able to display his virtues), for this time I was overwhelmed, and mainly by his excellent conducting.  The program itself--Brahms's Tragic Overture, Schumann's cello concerto, and Dvorak's "New World" Symphony--was not a big draw, so it was the performers that caused the concert to be sold out weeks in advance.  And in the event, the Brahms was merely well done, while the Schumann was a piece of bizarrerie (why did the composer even choose the cello as a solo instrument, if this is how he felt about it?) that was, for once, made fun and exciting by Ma's incomparable playing and the orchestra's equally brilliant accompaniment.  But the performance of Dvorak's Ninth--for which, I have to admit, I have a soft spot anyway--was no doubt the best I will ever hear.  It was not just that the Vienna musicians were up to it; it was that Dudamel had shaped their performance so cunningly, so intelligently, that this previously overplayed chestnut sounded, for once, like a fresh and delicate piece of music.  I was particularly struck by the conductor's ability to raise and lower the volume at a moment's notice, so that the pounding ending was concluded with a singularly quiet and almost wistful adieu that transformed the feel of the whole work.

Dudamel himself is a charming figure:  extremely youthful, rather short of stature, with a mop of curly dark-brown hair, a repertoire of wildly enthusiastic gestures, and a firm wish to hide himself among his players (he rejects any attempts to make him take a solo bow).  This is all very nice.  But what really matters is the sound he can get out of the orchestra, especially when it is a very good orchestra.  He is one artist it is definitely worth crossing the country to hear, and I expect I will be doing so again before long. 
October 11, 2010 8:18 AM | | Comments (0)

Leave a comment


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


    ARTicles ARTicles is a project of 
    the National Arts Journalism Program, an association of some 500 journalists in the United States. Our group blog is a place for arts and cultural journalists to share ideas and information, to celebrate what we do, and to make the case for its continuing value. ARTicles is edited by Laura Collins-Hughes. To contact her, click here.

    ARTicles Bloggers Meet our bloggers: Sasha Anawalt, MJ Andersen, Alicia Anstead, Laura Bleiberg, Larry Blumenfeld, Jeanne Carstensen, Robert Christgau, Laura Collins-Hughes, Thomas Conner, Lily Tung Crystal, Richard Goldstein, Patti Hartigan, Glenn Kenny, Wendy Lesser, Ruth Lopez, Nancy Malitz, Douglas McLennan, Tom Moon, Abe Peck, Peter Plagens, John Rockwell, Werner Trieschmann, Lesley Valdes and Douglas Wolk. more

    NAJP NAJP is America's largest organization dedicated to the advancement of arts and cultural journalism. The NAJP has produced research, publications and discussions and works to bring together journalists, artists, news executives, cultural organization administrators, funders and others concerned with arts and culture in America today. more

    Join NAJP Join America's largest organization of arts journalists. Here's how more

see all archives