So here is Anthony Tommasini’s review of Thursday night’s CONTACT! concert. I notice he forgot to italicize the concert title, in brazen neglect of the NY Phil’s style guidelines. He also forgot to mention how charming Magnus Lindberg’s Finnish accent is, which was a major highlight of the evening! Lindberg takes mellifluous liberties with English pronunciation; his words elide in the most disarming combinations, yet they remain strangely intelligible. When he was interviewing Marc-André Dalbavie, there was almost a charming accent critical mass.
Dalbavie’s Melodia was also my favorite piece on the bill. It began as a measured series of seemingly unconnected gestures, which gradually morphed into longer ideas, based on pentatonic Gregorian chant. Each gesture was incredibly “perfect”, in that inimitable way of French composers; fresh harmonies, beautifully inventive orchestration, just the right number of repetitions. It couldn’t have made a more stark contrast to the piece that followed (and I’m using the term “piece” in its loosest sense here), Arthur Kampela’s Macunaíma. Everyone always brings up Ives when there’s a piece with lots of activity, marching band music, funny quotes, grinding dissonance, etc. Oh, he’s a “Brazilian Charles Ives”. Actually, Macunaíma was more of a “party piece”, like Rzewski’s Les Moutons de Panurge, though without any of the interest provided by having an audible process (or, you know, any coherent structure whatsoever). It provided exactly the sensation when you throw a party, and it reaches a certain point in the evening, and you wish everyone would leave your house so you can go to bed, but you get this sinking feeling that they actually have another few hours left in them. Just like that.
Nonetheless, It was kind of fun to see the NY Phil let loose for awhile (I almost forgot I was watching the NY Phil) because the first half of the program didn’t really afford them the chance. Glenn Dicterow looked downright skittish during Arlene Sierra’s Game of Attrition; I doubt if he ever had to work so hard simply to hold his section together during the entire Maazel era. It gave the proceedings that all-too-familiar air of a student new-music concert, where everyone’s half-learned their part in dress rehearsal. Symphony Space’s unforgiving acoustic did them no favors here; the violins sounded as if they were playing in the next room. Lei Liang’s Verge faired better; he’d arranged his string orchestra as a series of stereophonic quartets, Bartók-style. This helped with sound distribution a great deal, though the opening would have sounded beautiful with a little reverb.
It’s too bad about the acoustics, because Symphony Space is a nice-sized venue for this sort of concert, and it’s informal and comfortable. They even served up a cough syrup-like booze potion afterwards. These guys are really working hard, I thought. As well they should. And though the concert was a mixed success, it’s gratifying to see the Philharmonic taking risks that would have seemed unthinkable a year ago.