Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New York Philharmonic Scores "Two Base Hit" with Dual Openings

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--Credit New York Philharmonic Artistic Advisor, actor  Alec Baldwin and Music Director Alan Gilbert with creating an Opening Night Gala performance that reached out to engage the audience in an enticing way. "La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema," was a program which explored Italian film music spanning the last half of the twentieth century from Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1950) to Michael Radford's Il Postino (1994). It was part of "The Art of the Score: Film Week at the Philharmonic," which later presented "Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times; The Tramp at 100," with the orchestra playing the director's original score.

The following week, the Philharmonic presented yet another opening, the start of its regular subscription season with a more traditional program of serious music;  Mahler's Symphony No. 1, along with the U.S. Premiere of  a Philharmonic co-commission with the Gothenburg Symphony, Unsuk Chin's Clarinet Concerto with Finnish viruoso Kari Kriikku as soloist.

Although the New York Yankees are absent from the Major League Baseball playoffs, they might have fared better if they had someone in their roster the likes of Maestro Gilbert, who scored a two-run-homer with this season's series of opening concerts.

Aided by the sumptuous playing of the orchestra and the lush orchestrations of William Ross, the concert was a satisfying, even if sometimes frothy, experience throughout. Add the beauty and crystalline vocals of a sultry Renee Fleming, in full cabaret mode, singing with mike in hand, the sylvan voice of pop vocalist Josh Groban (think Andrea Bocelli without the annoying warble), and the heartfelt searing violin of Joshua Bell, and you have a musical display that the Italians would rate as "Squisito!"

The evening began with Nino Rota's memorable music from "Amarcord," with Joshua Bell writing a musical love letter with Stelvio Cipriani's , Suite from "The Anonymous Venetian, followed by Ennio Morricone's lush theme "Your Love," from "Once Upon a Time in the West, with Renee Fleming caressing the microphone like a long lost love  and emitting some of the most beautiful vocal tones to ever reverberate in Avery Fisher Hall. 

The highlight of the program was the pensive theme by Andrea and Ennio Morricone, "Se," from Guiseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso." This is one of the most beautiful pieces of film music ever written, but until you've heard it as performed by the collective forces of Bell, Fleming and Groban with the New York Philharmonic, you have yet to realize the emotional depth and spiritual power of this haunting music.

Maestro Alan Gilbert

The music was accompanied by fragments of film clips, most notably from the great Visconti film, "The Leopard," with Burt Lancaster as Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, dancing with Claudia Cardinale. The rest of the visuals, projected on a screen behind and above the orchestra featured some Monty Python-esque animation that, frankly, I found distracting. The lone exception was the rising moon effect of the great Fellini, occasionally tipping his signature Borsalino fedora. Nice touch!

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