Chicago Symphony Orchestra in New York diary, Day 1: Getting there is half the fun, an explanation and "Isn't that...It is!"
Imagine you're waiting in O'Hare, and your flight is canceled. Now imagine that headache compounded by waiting with a hundred co-workers and you're flight is canceled. That was the situation facing the CSO Thursday before flying to New York to begin their New York tour at Carnegie Hall Friday night.
Thirty staffers and musicians were squeezed onto the next flight, and the others followed later that day, averting disaster. Still, it's not the most auspicious way to begin your tour, the first New York tour undertaken recently without a music director leading the way. But the orchestra has conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez at the helm, quite possibly the steadiest hand in the business. Boulez has been conducting the orchestra for more than thirty years, and, as Bernard Haitink recently put it in a TOC interview, Boulez knows most of the players by name. Despite the admiration felt between the musicians and Boulez, the conductor and composer still has his share of detractors and, frankly, enemies who remember his tenure at the New York Philharmonic in the '70s. He followed Leonard Bernstein, and his severe championing of the European avant-garde couldn't have been further from Lenny's fancy-free style. Audiences stormed out, musicians weren't pleased and old wounds sometimes take awhile to heal. The "WOOO-ooo" that greeted Boulez from the rafters as he strode to Carnegie's red-carpeted podium last night would imply that bygones are bygones. So too would the four ovations he was called back for following the end of Mahler's long and intricate Seventh Symphony. A lot of Chicagoans, and New Yorkers, for that matter, ask me why I'd go to hear the CSO in New York. I mean, they just played these programs in Chicago, right? Yes, they did, but there are two simple reasons why I head out here. The orchestra plays a little finer. It's like visiting relatives you want to impress. You act a little more refined than you might be, you try to be on your best behavior. Orchestra Hall patrons get the best the CSO has to offer, but the orchestra digs a little deeper when they're on tour. Then there's Carnegie Hall's acoustics. Strings sound richer, woodwinds cut through the ensemble a little more and the sound has more dimensions. It's like looking at a painting and a diorama; the painting's two dimensions are moving, but the diorama's vividness carries more power because of the third dimension. After the concert, I retired to a trattoria across Seventh Avenue with Rusell Platt, a friend from the New Yorker and a composer, to hash out the concerts high and low points. But the noise and laughter from a nearby table made us look up repeatedly. Naturally they were happy, for the group included playwright John "Six Degrees of Separation" Guare and Sid and Mercedes Bass, the Metropolitan Opera patrons whose recent $25 million gift gave that institution a shot in the arm. More to come about the CSO’s Saturday night concert, as well as the extensive museum-hopping planned for today.