Chicago Symphony Orchestra in New York, Day 2: Hungarian tawdriness and trumpeters reminiscing
A few wireless issues crop up, so I'll post this backstage at Carnegie Hall, instead of from a coffee house. Same product, different delivery system. For its second concert at Carnegie Hall, the CSO brought the Beyond the Score program, lock, stock and barrel. This education initiative delves into a single piece of music followed by a complete performance of it, and by not talking down to listeners, they seem to have made a hit with both Chicago and New York. Bela Bartok’s ballet The Miraculous Mandarin is the subject, and Gerard McBurney’s program goes way over the top in describing the rot and perversity surrounding the early 20th century work’s creation. By which I mean, it’s about a prostitute, and McBurney and his creative team at the CSO went through photo archives and dredged up pictures of numerous barely clothed hotties from the period.More... The Chicagoans who have seen the Beyond the Score programs so far have been enthusiastic. The main complaint I hear is that McBurney stuffs too much information into the hour-long discussions so that it’s hard to digest everything. The images he chooses‑paintings, magazine photos and drawings and film clips of war‑unwind in a continuous stream of visual information that’s suited to anyone who ever tunes into TV. The scripts generally jump back and forth between historical information and specific descriptions of the piece of music. Carnegie’s audience seemed to eat it up. I gave me extra ticket to a young woman who works as a librarian at the Metropolitan Museum, and she was entranced by it. Talking to a man about the production at intermission, he said he’d lived in New York for 20 years and never heard an audience remain so quiet. These “terrible people” made no noise that I could hear, and coughers were absent. More than a few of New York’s classical honchos and tastemakers were extremely enthusiastic about the production. John Bruce Yeh, the CSO’s assistant principal clarinet, was sitting in the hot seat tonight. Mandarin’s clarinet solos are brutal, and offer the soloist nowhere to hide. Yeh’s vivid playing carried them off with no shortage of abandon. Boulez visceral conducting was a series of sharp jabs thrust into the string players’ faces, and he provoked the violent counterreaction in them he must have sought. Earlier that day, trumpeters Chris Martin and John Hagstrom visited the apartment of Sydney Baker, the principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony who preceded Adolph “Bud” Herseth. Hagstrom’s boyish glee in recalling the visit seemed to be all he needed to make the tour a success. This afternoon, the CSO repeats the Mandarin, along with some slinky French and contemporary music. Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is on hand for Gyorgy Ligeti’s Piano Concerto. Ligeti wrote some of his most challenging music for Aimard, and Aimard returns the favor by playing this tricky masterpiece.