Thursday, October 02, 2014

Nielsen night at the Philharmonic

We attended the New York Philharmonic's performance of Carl Nielsen' Symphonies 5 and 6 last night, part of their multi-year Nielsen Project. Previous concerts featured his earlier symphonies and some of his concertos. They opened the concert with Nielsen' Maskarade Overture, which was a five minute overview of everything I love about Nielsen's music. It was frenetic and melodic, with loud boisterous blasts from the brass. 

Nielsen's Symphony No. 5 reminded me more of his 4th than of his other works. Like the 4th, the 5th had frantic string passages and long brassy melodies. But it also had persistent rattles from the snare drum, threatening to disrupt the proceedings more than once. Music Director Alan Gilbert spoke before the work and said that the music evoked a battle scene. While there was obvious conflict in the score, the musicians performed brilliantly in bringing Nielsen's music to life.

Nielsen's Symphony No.6 followed after intermission. This piece, in its New York Philharmonic premiere, was one of the more idiosyncratic symphonies I've heard. The opening movement was unmistakably Nielsen, but the composer took a turn into dissonance as the work progressed. The later movements had odd harmonies and twisting melodies from the wind section. The theme and variations in the last movement were the most unusual, as the theme journeyed through the instrument families, even taking a turn in the percussion section. There was a bit of disarray within the first violin section near the end of the piece, perhaps underscoring the Philharmonic's unfamiliarity with this particular work. But it was brief and for all I know part of the piece.

The orchestra and Maestro Gilbert enjoyed long ovations after both symphonies. It's clear that audiences love Nielsen's music and this orchestra is well suited to perform it. I've bought two of the planned four recordings in the Philharmonic's Nielsen cycle, and I look forward to picking up the last two when they are released.
Also, the Philharmonic handed out free "I [love] NIELSEN" buttons, and we were all too happy to wear ours.

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