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New York Philharmonic Opens 175th Season with Corigliano, Gershwin, and Dvořák

The New York Philharmonic officially opened it's 175th season Wednesday night with a concert which, while not exactly boundary-pushing, served as a reminder of the rich legacy of this oldest of American orchestras. Beforehand, the Phil played this video emphasizing the orchestra's identity as a uniquely New York institution, with NYC-entric performances throughout the season such as last week's Manhattan. (There was also brief mention of the Phil's "New World Initiative" - named after Dvořák's 9th symphony, which the Phil commissioned back in 1893 - but at the moment it consists of little more than an open calendar of performances by NYC-based musicians.)

As noted by Philharmonic president Matthew Van Besien, this season is also Alan Gilbert's eighth and last as music director. During his time in NYC, Gilbert may not have displayed the most magnetic podium presence, but he has done more to promote new music and innovative programming at the Phil than any director since Bernstein or Boulez. Gilbert's final season is no different, as he leads seven World, U.S., and New York Premieres, as well as music by LigetiJohn Adams, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Gilbert will close the season with a concert that explores how music and musicians can effect positive change and harmony in the world.

Gala concerts aren't meant to challenge their well-heeled audience, but there was one relatively new work on this concert: John Corigliano's STOMP, originally written in 2010 for solo violin. It was typical of the new music played on most concert programs: short, playful, mostly melodic. The "stomp" in the title refers to Corigliano's instruction to the players to tap or stomp on certain beats, much like you'll find in country or jazz music. Or, any music, really. 

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Art of the Score: New York Philharmonic plays "Manhattan"

by Nick Stubblefield 

Manhattan at NY Philharmonic

"To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin."

Woody Allen said it best himself in those opening lines from his classic 1979 film Manhattan. The all-Gershwin soundtrack was originally recorded by the New York Philharmonic, so it was only fitting that the Phil presented Manhattan two weeks ago in David Geffen Hall as part of their annual "Art of the Score" series, which replaces a projected film’s recorded score with a live performance. Given that the Philharmonic recorded the soundtrack nearly 40 years earlier in this same hall, they could not have sounded more at home in this performance.

Gershwin's iconic "Rhapsody in Blue" opens the film, set to a montage of black and white images of the city that perfectly capture it's grandeur and frantic energy. The Philharmonic performed it with virility and enthusiasm, starting with the famously identifiable clarinet glissando. Throughout the film, the score subtly underscores the emotion playing out on screen, often unaccompanied by dialogue or other sound. In this live performance context, the movie's witty dialogue and score shined independently of one another.

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The Public Domain: Working With Simon Halsey

IMG_3979When I first experienced Simon Halsey's work with the Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus in the Berlin Philharmonic's extraordinary 2014 production of the St. Matthew Passion, I never imagined that less than two years later, I'd be sitting in a Brooklyn rehearsal studio mere inches from him as he led the Orange strand through two complete run-throughs of the public domain on Friday night. But, far from being an imposing, remote podium presence, Simon - who is director of the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, and the Berlin Philharmonic’s Youth Choral Program, among other posts - went overboard to make himself accessible.

"Hi, I'm Simon," he said to us by means of introduction. "I'm the person who will be standing in the middle of the plaza playing traffic policeman. It's lovely to be here in Brooklyn!"

Before long, Simon, who wore shorts and a white polo shirt, was bouncing all around the rehearsal studio like a manic schoolboy. For the most part, he was deeply encouraging, telling us we were his "favorite group": a credit to our strand leader, Maria. Still, it soon became clear that hitting the right notes and following the tempi weren't going to be enough for Simon.

"Now, we can make it more daring. I have a feeling this group is going to be dangerously inventive."

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"The Hubble Cantata" and Tigue at BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival

by Steven Pisano

(All photos by Steven Pisano)

"We are stardust/ Billion year old carbon/ We are golden/ Caught in the devil's bargain/ And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." --Joni Mitchell

For anyone interested in the origins of the Universe, the concepts of space and time, or the genesis of life, the spectacular, awe-inspiring photographs taken with the Hubble Space Telescope over the past 36 years have been a magical, almost religious source of wonder, enabling humankind to peer back 14 billion years into our collective past. These extraordinary photographs have inspired scientists to dream about what the future might hold for us. 

In Paola Prestini and Royce Vavrek's The Hubble Cantata, which received its world premiere as a full-length virtual reality experience at BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on Saturday night, the audience was invited to travel on a shared journey inspired by these majestic images, following the skeletal story of a woman who is born, dies, and seeks to be reborn, just as stars are reconstituted from their own stellar dust. Images of ex-New York City Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan were projected onto a scrim in front of the orchestra and chorus.

The tease of the show to the thousands of people in attendance was that it was the first-ever fusing of a major musical performance with Virtual Reality. But the VR experience--a wishy-washy video of the Orion Nebula called "Fistful of Stars" by filmmaker Eliza McNitt viewed on smartphones inserted into cardboard headsets--was underwhelming at best. I was anticipating oohs and aahs all around me, but mostly I saw a sea of shrugs. With a long line of feature film depictions of space from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Gravity, there has been no shortage of jaw-dropping footage of what space might look like.

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Tanglewood 2016: Towards the Future

LENOX, MA - It's been eighty years now since the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave it's first concerts in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts and, aside from a four-year hiatus during WWII, it's where they and a host of guest artists have performed every summer since. For many, like your's truly, summer just wouldn't be the same without a trip to Tanglewood

If you only had time for one visit to the Berkshires this summer, you couldn't have done much better than last weekend, not only for the sheer starpower on hand, but for the inspiration provided by the crack student ensembles that are Tanglewood's true raison d'être. I arrived on Friday evening, about halfway through the 6pm prelude concert in Ozawa Hall. (No matter how early I leave the city, I always seem to be late for these prelude concerts.)

Sitting on the freshly mowed lawn beneath blue skies and fast-moving white clouds, I first heard the weekend's two star soloists, pianists Jonathan Biss and Paul Lewis, play Schubert's Fantasy in F minor for piano four hands: one of those brooding, soul-searching works that characterized Schubert's final months before his death at 31. Lewis remained onstage with a trio of string players from the BSO (Victor Romanul, Michael Zaretsky, Mickey Katz) to play Mozart's Piano Quartet in E-flat, which never tried to be anything more than it was: pretty music for a pretty setting. I was content to lie back and listen to the piano blend with the wind blowing through the oak leaves overhead.  

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