Before I run up to Carnegie for the NYC debut of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and their conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, a quick recap of the whirlwind weekend. (Today's my birthday, so this will be short and sweet.)
On Saturday, I saw the NYC Opera matinee of Samuel Barber's Vanessa, City Opera's second American opera this season (after Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner.) The opera, written in 1958, didn't quite live up to the program's billing as "the best American opera ever presented," (uh, Adams? Glass?) but there were some fine performances, especially from the female leads: the volcanic Lauren Flanigan as the title character, Katharine Goeldner as her lovelorn niece Erika, and the amazing Rosalind Elias as the Old Baroness, who created the role of Erika nearly 50 years ago. It was also refreshing to see a female conductor - Anne Manson - in the pit for a change. (BTW - thanks to City Opera's Big Deal program, I was able to get a seat in the dead center of the orchestra for only $30.)
Less than three hours later, I was at Carnegie's Zankel Hall for a concert by the Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, the avant-garde outpost of this year's Berlin In Lights festival. I overheard someone refer to the group as "the German Bang On A Can," which wasn't really correct: while Bang on a Can is rooted in a jazzy sort of minimalism, KNM Berlin feasts on a diet of hardcore European modernism, including works by Luigi Nono and Helmut Lachenmann, as well as younger composers such as Peter Sabat and Ana Maria Rodriguez. (They did use BOAC's marathon approach to presenting, clocking in at nearly three-and-a-half hours, with two intermissions.) What was extraordinary was the commitment exhibited by these players, bringing the same precision and musicianship to this music as you'll hear from the band playing the big house later this week (especially the percussionist on Lachenmann's Interieurs 1, who was just a complete animal.)
Sunday night, I saw the Parker quartet at Barbes, where they have been in residence on Sunday evenings throughout the fall. They played selections from Smetana's 1st, Mendelssohn's 2nd, Shostakovich's 9th and a pair of rags by American composer William Bolcom. The performance was electric, and the music - which had nowhere to escape in the tiny back room - was almost ear-splitting at times. In the second half, they offered a new, extremely subdued work by Giancarlo Vulcano (of house band Las Rubias del Norte) accompanied by projections of a architecturally-quirky studio he often visits in Brazil.