Sunday, October 30, 2011

Being late for the Philharmonic isn't so bad

We left Brooklyn at 6:45 PM for a 8 PM New York Philharmonic concert last night. The subways are always screwed up on weekends but I assumed that allowing ourselves over an hour would leave us plenty of time. However, the D train had other plans. Our train stopped between Broadway-Lafayette and West 4th Street, and we sat for about 20 minutes. The conductor told us that there was a power problem north of 59th Street, so the D trains were all unloading passengers at West 4th Street and that we would unload there as soon as possible. We didn't get to West 4th until 7:40 PM, and even after a quick transfer to the 1 train at Christopher Street we didn't get to Avery Fisher Hall until a few minutes after 8 PM. It was the first time I've ever been late for a concert.

The ushers directed us to the Helen Hull Room on the second tier level, where the orchestra holds its pre-concert lectures. There we found several rows of chairs facing a big-screen TV and high-quality speakers, and we were able to see and hear most of the first piece on last night's program, Schubert's Symphony No. 8, "Unfinished." I was a little out of sorts to really focus on the music, but I appreciated the balance among the sections. There were elements of the harmonies that conductor Kurt Masur brought out that I hadn't noticed before.

At intermission we took our seats in the hall for the second half, Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13, "Babi Yar." I like Shostakovich's music and I especially enjoyed the first two of the five movements. Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poems were the text that Shostakovich set to music, and his treatments of "Babi Yar" and "Humor" matched the words and reinforced the poet's message. "Babi Yar" was harsh, brutal, and mournful, while "Humor" was a scherzo full of jovial passages in the strings and winds. To be honest, the last three movements didn't really hold my full attention, and while I appreciated the work of the lower strings and the brass and the sounds of the soloist and mens' chorus, the music itself didn't really resonate with me. I will find a recording of this piece and listen to it again, though.

At the end of the symphony the nearly full hall gave the Philharmonic and Masur a long and resounding ovation. Masur has maintained the appeal that he had when he was music director here, and if anything, the city's love for him seems to grow each time I see him conduct here. I hope he has many more years of conducting ahead of him. He clearly has much left to say and do in that role.

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