NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS/EDWARD ABRAMS/
By Lawrence Budmen
New World Symphony, the American orchestral academy, concluded its busy season with an all Tchaikovsky program on May 2, 2009 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, USA. Ordinarily another dose of familiar Tchaikovsky symphonies and concertos is not something this writer is eager to experience; yYet the youthful exuberance of the young musicians and artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas' nuanced and detailed perusal of thrice familiar repertoire proved revelatory.
The opportunity to hear this ensemble play large scale orchestral works in the resonant, clear acoustics of the Knight Concert Hall held its own rewards. When playing major scores at Miami Beach's Lincoln Theater, the orchestra's home base, the sound can often turn harsh and strident in the hall's limited aural perspective. At The Arsht Center, the New World plays like a different orchestra. String tone blooms , winds have sweetness and character and the brass can sound mellow as well as emit visceral impact. Happily a new concert hall and rehearsal and multi media center is rising on property adjacent to the Lincoln, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. Gehry's track record of concert hall and performance space design is impressive - Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the Fisher Center at Bard College in upstate New York and the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park. Scheduled to open during the 2010-2011 season, the new auditorium should finally give these talented young artists a chance to shine.
New World conducting fellow Edward Abrams opened the Tchaikovsky evening with a crisp, vital rendition of the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, marked by particularly elegant wind playing. Abrams, who counts David Zinman and Otto Werner Mueller among his mentors, leads with clear, precise gestures and knows how to draw suave playing from an ensemble. (Earlier in the season he displayed a more acerbic sonic edge in Ernest Toch's astringent Bunte Suite.)
While the Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, Op.23 may be an over played warhorse, Vladimir Feltsman and Tilson Thomas managed to bring new life, musicality and charm to this virtuoso vehicle. In prime form, Feltsman conveyed the best aspects of the great Russian keyboard tradition without any of the bombastic exaggeration that afflicts many young players in this type of showpiece. From the piano's initial entrance, Feltsman combined fleet fingered power with aristocratic taste and intoxicating élan. His Andante simplice (second movement) benefited from a lyrical singing line (almost operatic) and disarmingly light touch in the vivacious central Prestissimo episode. Katrina Walker's sensuous solo flute caressed the beguiling principal melody. Feltsman's rhythmic buoyancy turned the final Allegro con fuoco into an incisive Russian dance, replete with powerhouse bravura display. Tilson Thomas and the orchestra provided superb collaboration, rich in sonority and instrumental transparency.
The stormy passions of the Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64 found idiomatic expressivity in Tilson Thomas' big boned, exciting performance. Louis DeMartino's ruminative clarinet solo launched an opening movement notable for a fine balance of expansive lyricism and incendiary drama in the score's balletic, episodic strophes. The exquisite phrasing, perfect intonation and lustrous tone of Jonas Van Dyke's horn solo took pride of place in the Andante cantabile. Alison Chung's solo oboe interjections were no less stellar. Tilson Thomas lent appropriate dark undertones to the third movement Valse and dazzling orchestral firepower to the often martial finale. Conductor and orchestra offered freshly scrubbed, transparent Tchaikovsky of disarming lightness and transparency.
The 2009-2010 season of the New World Symphony under Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas features pianists Yuja Wang and Jeremy Denk, violinists Jennifer Koh and Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg, cellist Alban Gerhardt, klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer and soprano Measha Bruggergosman and guest conductors Alasdair Neale, Osmo Vanska, Ludovic Morlot, Nicholas McGegan, Edwin Outwater and James Gaffigan. Soprano Christine Brewer, mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni and the Master Chorale of South Florida under Joshua Habermann are featured in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on October 24 and 25, 2008.
The contemporary music series Sounds of the Times features Jeffrey Milarsky conducting works by Lang, Ziporyn and Gordon on November 7 and an all Scandinavian program with Susanna Marki leading scores by Saariaho, Murall and Lindberg on January 23, 2010 with cellist Anssi Karttunen. Violinist Todd Phillips, violist Roberto Diaz and baritone Randall Scarlata are featured in a Sunday afternoon chamber music series. The season concludes with a festival Reflections of Debussy on April 25-May 1, 2010. For information, see www.nws.edu.