Sunday, November 29, 2009

My big date for charity

Last night was the big “date” at the New York Philharmonic that came out of last month's NYRO benefit gala. The winner of the date was Jorge, a member of NYRO's trumpet section. Our evening began with dinner at The City Grill on the Upper West Side. Jorge and I shared some sparkling conversation and at times he took my advertised role as “bon vivant,” with better stories than mine.

The Philharmonic's program consisted of Arthur Honegger's Symphony No. 2 for strings with solo trumpet ad libitum (performed by the Philharmonic's principal trumpet, Philip Smith) and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” with Riccardo Muti at the podium. The Honegger symphony was well-played but not really my kind of classical music, though we both enjoyed Mr. Smith's solo near the end of the work. After intermission Muti led the Philharmonic in a spirited reading of the “Eroica.” The audience had barely stopped applauding his return to the stage when the orchestra struck the two opening E-flat chords that begin the symphony. I've seen Muti conduct the Philharmonic before, but I hadn't noticed how he would stop conducting entirely for several measures and let the orchestra play on before his right hand lifted the baton again. At least that's how it appeared to me sitting several hundred feet away in the second tier. For all I know, Muti's face told the orchestra everything they needed to know during those measures. Muti also appeared slightly annoyed by all the coughing and rustling from the audience between movements, twice lifting his baton to start the movement and then lowering it, before raising it a second time and beginning. As much as I love the string section, there were a few spots where they covered up the winds. I wanted to shout at them to get out of the way. The highlight for me was the excellent work of the Philharmonic's French horn section. The horn calls in the third and fourth movements, especially the coda, were lively and rousing. During the curtain calls, Muti recognized the orchestra's solo performers as usual, but when he came back out and asked the orchestra to stand, they refused and applauded him for at least thirty seconds before finally standing. The Philharmonic's ovation reminded me of this concert review in the Washington Post by Anne Midgette, which pointed out that Muti was a candidate for the orchestra's music directorship several years ago (a job that went to Alan Gilbert). It's clear that the orchestra likes working with Muti, and as Midgette pointed out, this concert was an example of what might have been had Muti taken the Philharmonic's position.

After the concert Jorge and I went to the green room, hoping to meet Philip Smith. Mr. Smith is something of an old family friend, as his father and my grandfather were colleagues many years ago and Mr. Smith worked with my grandfather at a band camp a long time ago. After a few minutes' wait, Mr. Smith came out to say hello. I was excited to meet someone from the orchestra whose work I've enjoyed for so many years. But Jorge was thrilled. It was like he met one of his idols. I took a photo of Jorge and Mr. Smith, and Jorge said several times that his wife (also a trumpeter) would be jealous. We also got to meet the Philharmonic's associate principal trumpet, Matthew Muckey. Jorge and I ended the evening with a couple of beers at a local watering hole before going our separate ways. It was as good a date as I've ever put together.

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