The New York Philharmonic Opening Night

The New York Philharmonic are performing two compositions by Samuel Barber on opening night tomorrow:

Overture to The School for Scandal, Op. 5 (1931)

Barber was just 21 and still a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute when he composed this overture, “suggested by Sheridan’s comedy” of the same name. It is one of several of his works inspired by literature. The sparkling, energetic concert piece wasn’t intended for any particular production of Sheridan’s 1777 comedy of manners, but rather to capture the spirit of the play. Premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1933, the Overture earned the composer Columbia University’s Bearns Prize. The music, like the comedy itself, reflects the maneuverings and high-spirited hijinks of characters with hilarious names like Lady Sneerwell, Sir Benjamin Backbite, Mrs. Candor, and Sir Peter Teazle as they engage in spreading unfounded rumors. The moods of the music shift swiftly, from dissonant to vivacious, from lively to lyrical, finishing with a rowdy flourish. One of the most delightful curtain-raisers in the repertoire.

Andromache’s Farewell for soprano and orchestra, Op. 39 (1962)

If you haven’t read your Homer recently or seen the movie Troy (the most recent filmed attempt to tell the story stars Brad Pitt as Achilles, Saffron Burrows as Andromache) you may find a context-setting of this heart-wrenching monologue helpful. Samuel Barber himself provided it: “Scene: an open space before Troy, which has just been captured by the Greeks. All Trojan men have been killed or have fled and the women and children are held captives. Each Trojan woman has been allotted to a Greek warrior and the ships are now ready to take them into exile. Andromache, widow of Hector, Prince of Troy, has been given as a slave-wife to the son of Achilles. She has just been told that she cannot take her little son [Astyanax] with her in the ship, for it has been decreed by the Greeks that a hero’s son must not be allowed to live and that he is to be hurled over the battlements of Troy. She bids him farewell. In the background the city is burning. It is just before dawn.” This “Farewell” was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic under Thomas Schippers in honor of its first season at Lincoln Center, and for the great soprano Martina Arroyo. The compact soliloquy embodies a range of feelings—dignity, grief, anger, and desperation—in both the vocal line and the riveting orchestral accompaniment. Barber completed the piece after auditioning Arroyo, who said, “The finishing touches were tailored to my voice…the pianissimo, the crescendo, for example, in some of the phrases,” when Andromache expresses her rage over the impending murder of Astyanax. A New York Times review of the San Francisco Symphony’s performance stated that Deborah Voigt “had all the elements in the right proportions: sheer vocal power, emotional depth and range, and the ability to project the text… Her performance was wrenching and irresistible.”

Download the program notes as a PDF file here: Barber_School for Scandal_1112.

The New York premiere of György Ligeti’s “Grand Macabre”

Over the years many symphonic institutions have tried, with inconclusive results. In his first season as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert is pursuing a more experimental, potentially more exciting, agenda. For the New York premiere of Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Grand Macabre,” opening a three-night run on Thursday at Avery Fisher Hall, he has opted for a portable multimedia staging by the diminutive production company Giants Are Small, based in Sunset Park, a blue-collar neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Clarinet Gets Acrobatic Workout

In his brilliant Clarinet Concerto, Magnus Lindberg exploits myriad facets of what the instrument can do, from playing soaring melodic lines to making almost rude-sounding noises. He composed the work in 2002 for the remarkable clarinetist Kari Kriikku, who performed its United States premiere with the New York Philharmonic, led by Alan Gilbert, on Saturday evening at Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Kriikku, a physically flamboyant player of Olympian virtuosity, tackled with aplomb the athletic demands of this rewarding and rigorously constructed single-movement work, whose five sections have allusions to Brahms, Debussy and jazz. Making his debut with the Philharmonic on Saturday, Mr. Kriikku played with a glowing tone and sensual spontaneity in the rhapsodic interludes. He offered a breathtaking cadenza, performing acrobatic feats in the instrument’s highest range.

While some contemporary composers view the symphony orchestra as archaic, Mr. Lindberg (the Philharmonic’s current composer in residence) has called it “his favorite instrument” and “the perfect typewriter where you have all the keys.” In this concerto he gives the orchestra a workout that results in dense, shimmering soundscapes, whose kaleidoscopic colors were aptly illuminated by Mr. Gilbert.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

New York Philharmonic Press Conference Live on Twitter

Tune in at Noon as we tweet live from our press conference as Alan Gilbert & special guests announce the 2010/11 season!

Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic begin 2010/11 with a world premiere by Wynton Marsalis, performed with the JALC orchestra.

Director/Designer Doug Fitch is back to stage Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen.” He wants to create a “meta-forest” in Avery Fisher Hall.

Composer-In-Residence Magnus Lindberg returns in 10-11; Gilbert conducts his groundbreaking Kraft, with instruments made from car parts!

Anne-Sophie Mutter is the NYP’s new Artist-In-Residence. She’ll perform premieres with Gilbert and MTT; chamber music, a recital and more.

Hungarian Echoes: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts three weeks of Bartok, Haydn & Ligeti. Guests include Aimard, Mustonen & Michelle DeYoung…

Alan Gilbert and the Phil will play the Brahms triple with Shaham, Ax, and Ma for the @CarnegieHall 120th Anniversary!

Read more in The New York Times here.