Saturday night was the final concert of the New York Philharmonic's 2009-2010 season. I was there in spirit for opening night and I thought I should be there for the closing night as well. The fact that Beethoven's Missa Solemnis was on the program didn't hurt.
The first work on the program was a new piece by the Philharmonic's composer-in-residence, Magnus Lindberg. I have a difficult time judging new music by modern composers. I have no frame of reference and I'm often afraid that it's going to be inaccessible toot-whistle-plunk-boom noise. But I've enjoyed the other Lindberg works that the Philharmonic presented this season and I was pleased with this one as well. Lindberg's music is modern but tonal. He favors energetic, frenetic passages, heavy on percussion. Al Largo reminded me of a film score, with its consonant brass fanfares and melodic lines in the strings. It didn't leave me with anything I could hum later, but it was a work that I'd gladly listen to a second time.
The major work of the concert was Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. The piece is from the same period in Beethoven's career as the Ninth Symphony and his last three piano sonatas. It's what musicians refer to as “late Beethoven.” It's more complex in tonality and harmony than his earlier symphonies, even the Ninth Symphony. The melodies are more elaborate and the interplay among the choir, soloists and orchestra is more intricate than anything in the Ninth. I know the music and I've even heard it in concert before, but I hadn't heard it quite like this. The Philharmonic projected the English translation of the Latin Mass above the orchestra, so we could all follow along with the text. Reading the words gave the piece more of a religious intensity than one would get from just listening to the performance. There were a few times in the performance that I felt almost like I was in church. I also had to smile as I listened to the multiple false endings in the Gloria and Agnus Dei sections. They reminded me of a conversation I had with my father many years ago as I was listening to Beethoven's Third Symphony for the first time. My father poked his head in my room and said “the Eroica? Wait until you get to the end. Beethoven couldn't figure out how to end it, so he kept writing.”
The audience gave the Philharmonic and the performers a rousing standing ovation, one that I thought was well deserved. And again Alan Gilbert received the loudest applause of all. I've been thoroughly impressed with everything he's done in his first year as music director. I'm already looking forward to next season and how he'll challenge the orchestra. The New York Philharmonic is on the rise.