New World Symphony Opener: It Just Gets Better

Posted By ArtBurst Team
December 12, 2015 at 6:44 PM

The biggest surprise came at the end. The New World Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and Andrés Lopera gave “A Gershwin Opening” Oct. 5 at the New World Center to kick off the 2013-2014 season, a stellar affair that included music by Britten, Stravinsky and Gershwin, a major NWS debut of the pianist Yuja Wang, a world premiere video event by Tal Rosner, and a gift to the community in the form of a free Wallcast outside in what is fast becoming a South Beach tradition. By any standards, this would be enough and then some. Then came the encore. Just when we thought the standing ovation for young Wang might die down after her spectacular way with George Gershwin’s 1925 Concerto in F Major under Tilson Thomas’s baton, pianist and conductor came back on stage for something else: Tilson Thomas, who also happens to be a composer, found a few pages in an old notebook recalling New York nights of clubbing in his youth. The reimagined result, “You Come Here Often?”, is a jazzy, snazzy, deeply affecting little gem of an encore. It should get played again, though it will be tough to surpass the way Yuja Wang channeled her inner Bud Powell in this All-American new piece. This woman really feels jazz. She also gets Gershwin. His Piano Concerto is, well, hot. On opening night, the Charleston beat of the opening bars led to a Wang epiphany: sultry rubatos perfectly controlled, crystalline articulation somehow still creating the illusion of legato, and — throughout the score — real playfulness at the heart of all the virtuosity. Wang is without question one of the major talents of this generation. The orchestra helped. As a calling card for the current Fellows of America’s Orchestral Academy, the concerto bode well for the NWS season. The languid and sexy muted trumpet , the exquisitely nervous oboe, the piano’s conversation with the pizzicato strings — all these bright colors and more signaled an inspired and inspiring musical ensemble more than ready for any musical challenge. Gershwin’s 1932 Cuban Overture was conducted with joyous abandon by Lopera, currently music director of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. It was at least as satisfying. The Cuban Overture is a love letter from a tourist to the Havana where Gershwin must have had one hell of a vacation. At the New World Center, kudos to the percussion section: I have heard major orchestras simply not get the syncopated five-note Cuban clave beat (Gershwin called the claves “Cuban sticks”). The NWS nailed it. The concert — and the season — opened with The Star Spangled Banner. In Stravinsky’s 1922 suite from his ballet Pulcinella, a score that will be heard complete with this orchestra also including the vocal parts on Oct. 17, the young orchestra shone. Grace and glee danced side by side in this subtly subversive tribute to Pergolesi, with the insouciant oboe in the Sinfonia and the later dialogue of trombone and trumpet standing out. The performance was rhythmically alive, exuberant and, for all of Stravinsky’s coolness, even moving. Benjamin Britten’s 1945 Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes was saddled with the premiere of a video by Tal Rosner that frankly distracted from the score while adding little to its impact. For the Britten centennial celebrations, Rosner was commissioned by orchestras in four cities to make videos for the four interludes: Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Down here we got “Dawn,” nice images of sunrise in South Beach, shots of bridges and underpasses, all manipulated with criss-crossing geometric hardware, store paint-color samples that at their best recalled the first season of Mad Men. There wasn’t much new here, and certainly nothing worth laying over Britten. Considering what could be done — think of Godfrey Reggio’s visualizations of Philip Glass — Rosner’s work was a harmless distraction. On the musical side, the opening “Dawn” interlude was properly eerie, but the final “Storm” lacked the ferocity of the sea Britten knew so well. The NWS Britten Centennial celebrations continue Dec. 22 with the composer’s early Sinfonietta paired with his late masterpiece Phaedra, to be sung here by Amanda Crider. The season continues with Michael Tilson Thomas at the helm for “Poetry In Motion,” featuring video installation from British director and designer Netia Jones and Stravinsky’s complete Pulcinella on Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets $40-$95; Photo by Rui Dias-Aidos

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