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New York Philharmonic's Free Memorial Day Concert at St. John the Divine

New York Philharmonic, St. John Divine

I will never forget the first time I attended the New York Philharmonic's annual free Memorial Day Concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was 2001, and Kurt Masur - who began the tradition in 1992 as a gift to the people of New York - led the Phil in Sofia Gubaidulina's dark and eerie Two Paths (1998), featuring NY Phil violists Cynthia Phelps and Rebecca Young. That was followed by the most astonishing performance of Bruckner's 4th symphony that I have ever heard, with Bruckner's grand crescendos echoing throughout the imposing, inspiring interior.

It took me 14 years, but I finally returned to the Cathedral last night for the free Memorial Day concert, the 24th annual. Music Director Alan Gilbert led the Phil in an intense, almost severe program that included Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Shostakovich's 10th Symphony: a work of "concentrated fury" which he wrote in the wake of Stalin's death in 1953. Sitting relatively close to the stage, it was difficult to appreciate the full grandeur of the Cathedral's interior, but the sound was much less muddy than the last time, when I sat towards the back. The Phil, who've recently returned from a three week European tour, sounded sharp and on their game.

Last night's concert marked the unofficial kickoff of the Phil's summer season, which moves outdoors in a couple of weeks with the 50th(!) annual free Parks Concerts in all five boroughs. More info on the Phil's website

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