Although this past weekend in NYC was dominated by a visiting Austrian orchestra, the NY Phil made some musical fireworks of their own Saturday night under Sakari Oramo, whom I last saw conducting Strauss and Stravinsky in Stockholm.
The Phil marked Sibelius' upcoming 150th birthday with The Oceanides (1914), a tone poem originally commissioned by a summer festival in Norfolk, Connecticut. Sibelius traveled to the U.S. for the first time to conduct the premiere, shacking up in a suite at the Essex House on Central Park South while rehearsing at Carnegie Hall (who knew?) It's a shame that this piece, with its unique American pedigree, is so rarely performed on these shores: it packs a world of impressionistic color and swell into its 10 minutes. Numerous comparisons have been to Debussy's La Mer, written nine years earlier, but The Oceanides is grander, nobler, stamped with Sibelius' by-then masterful command of the orchestra. (He would go on to write the 5th Symphony a few months later.)
No matter what he did, there was no way that Frank Peter Zimmerman's rendition of Sibelius' Violin Concerto would top the miraculous performance Anne-Sophie Mutter gave with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra last month, both in Copenhagen and at Carnegie Hall. But, while Zimmerman wasn't as articulate or penetrating as Mutter, his performance was perfectly legit. The real issue was with the Phil, who, compared with the DNSO, seemed almost sullen in their approach, as if they'd rather be almost anywhere else. It also didn't help that the music never seemed to project beyond the Avery Fisher David Geffen stage, though we can all rest easy now that Lincoln Center has finally committed to renovating the hall in 2019. Or is it 2020?