ACL Friday Pics
Guest Post: Stereolab

Part-Time Virtuosi

DSC06245 It`s no fluke that the MET Orchestra  - the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera - has established itself as one of the world's great orchestral ensembles. Over at the Met, the orchestra maintains a grueling schedule of rehearsals and seven-weekly performances lasting anywhere from two to six hours. (The much-celebrated Vienna Philharmonic follows a similar model, its members culled from the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera.) The end result is that these guys can play pretty much anything you put in front of them - and play the hell out of it. 

Met Music Director James Levine - who is widely credited with rescuing the MET Orchestra from musical mediocrity - revived the Met's symphonic season in 1991, and now perform each season at both Carnegie Hall and around the world. In a Times interview last year, Levine spoke about what this particular ensemble brings to the orchestral repertoire: 

“From one point of view, you could say they don’t have experience with this repertoire; from another point of view—which has seemed to be the prevailing one—it is marvelous to hear a great orchestra that’s fresh to that repertoire...By having a composer's orchestral works side by side with their operatic repertoire, the orchestra sees connections that wouldn’t otherwise be available.”

DSC06228 I'd be happy hearing this orchestra play just about anything, but for me, the main draw at yesterday's Carnegie Hall concert was Olivier Messiaen's Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (1964), the Met's contribution to the ongoing Messiaen 100th birthday festivities. (They've left his opera Saint Francois d'Assise to City Opera, which they'll perform next season.)The 30 minute piece (which translates as: "And I await the resurrection of the dead") is divided into five movements, each inspired by a passage from scripture. It is a thoroughly modern, yet meditative work, with occasional outbursts of clashing gongs that resembled the "Great Noise" of Tenebrae in their terrifying volume. The wind and percussion ensemble was tightly gathered at the the center of the Carnegie stage, aiding the sense of isolation.

Levine took his time with the performance - particularly the pauses between movements, each of which lasted more than a full minute. Clearly this was deliberate: Messiaen was very interested in the concept of time, and nothing illuminates the passage of time so much as silence. Unfortunately, that insight seemed to be lost on several fidgeting New Yorkers, who are apparently incapable of sitting still for any significant length of time. (Yes, I mean you: idiot next to me who couldn't stop checking the news on his iPhone in between movements.)
DSC06232 Et exspecto was bookended by a pair of works from the old Viennese school. Beethoven's Grosse Fugue, transcribed here for string orchestra, was a marvel of precision, punctuated by deep, groaning bass. And, Christian Tetzlaff - Levine's preferred violinist - joined the orchestra for the Brahms Violin Concerto: an old war horse which indeed sounded crisp and new under these players. Teltzlaff played with almost violent energy - particularly the 3rd movement, which he attacked like a man possessed. 

Throughout the program, Levine - who had to cancel his season at Tanglewood this past summer after having his kidney removed - looked spry and healthy, conducting with more passion and energy than I've ever seen, shouting and shaking his fist at the sky. Clearly, that little side-gig in Boston has served him well. 

The MET Orchestra returns to Carnegie on January 25 with a wide-ranging program that includes Mozart, Rossini and the world premiere of a piano fantasy by Charles Wuorinen. Tickets available at the box office. DSC06237 

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