Ed's talk: Sep 18, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Alan Gilbert and the opening night at the N.Y. Phil

Though I did comment on the subject on the New York Times website, I had to be brief due to a lack of time and didn't want to appear too negative. But, in all honesty, I thought the program was ill-chosen.

The opening work by Magnus Lindberg (the Phil's "Composer in Residence"), especially composed for the occasion, sounded like an opening work especially composed for the occasion. So no surprises there! Mildly dissonant sounding much like his fellow Finn Sibelius, it must be said that Sibelius did it much better.

Messiaen's "Poems for Mi" with both text and music written by the composer was sung by Renee Fleming who couldn't disguise the fact that it was endless and, as usual for Messiaen, not very interesting. Messiaen's Roman Catholicism seemed an overwhelming influence on almost all his work as was his marital bliss, short-lived though it was; "Mi" (Claire Delbos) lost her memory after an operation and she was hospitalized for the rest of her life. (Of course Messiaen later remarried.) But Debussy musically influenced this work and Claude also did it better.

The telecast intermissions featured interviews with Renee and Alan and, surprise, each thought the other was wonderful. (And, oh yes, all the composers were also wonderful!)

That creaky old Berlioz warhorse, the Symphonie Fantastique, ended the program and, though some other commentators missed the excitement of Lenny for example, I thought it was a plus to see Gilbert refrain from jumping around. In fact, I found it to be a well-balanced performance and perhaps Gilbert will do even better in the German repertory. (One can only hope.)

The fact is that even standard composers wrote less familiar music which might be occasionally programmed and there are many other new composers who are more interesting than what was performed here.