Prior to performing Arnold Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, Ax and music director Alan Gilbert spoke to the audience about the work and twelve-tone compositions in general. Gilbert said that 12-tone music didn't need to be frightening. He said that while some composers had taken the concept and applied it to their works with mediocre results, it was possible to find beauty in this type of music. Ax and Gilbert then highlighted some of the key melodies in the concerto, as guideposts for the audience. I've seen Gilbert do this sort of talk before pieces in the past. I think it does help an audience that's likely to be unfamiliar with a work and perhaps apprehensive about it. I was able to follow the structure of the piece and identify the elements that Ax and Gilbert had noted. But I had a difficult time "getting into" the work. Without a tonal melodic frame of reference, I didn't have anything to latch onto and follow on a deeper musical level. Near the end of the piece, my mind wandered and after a few minutes I realized I hadn't been paying attention to the music at all. I don't want to dismiss atonal or 12-tone music completely, but it's just not for me.
After intermission, the Philharmonic closed the program with Mozart's Symphony No. 36, "Linz." I adore Mozart's music, so one of his greatest symphonies was just the palate cleanser I needed. The orchestra and Gilbert turned in a sparkling performance. I wouldn't say they found something new in their interpretation of the music, but I'm OK with that. Listening to the New York Philharmonic play Mozart in concert is like listening to Bob Dylan sing "Like A Rolling Stone," or Pavarotti sing "Nessun dorma." It's the greatest orchestra in the country playing music they know inside and out, with a skilled music director on the podium. I think you take that performance every chance you get.