Thursday, January 01, 2009

Maazel conducts last New Years concert with New York Philharmonic

On New Year’s Eve 2008, Lorin Maazel (his blog is here) conducted his last New Year’s Eve concert with the New York Philharmonic (Deutche Welle interview), and the concert was broadcast on PBS. Another recent interview with Maazel appears on Classical Source, here. George Mason University in Fairfax VA has an interview with Maazel on Toscanini here(remember, how the Italian conductor took everything so fast – I remember the contrast between Toscanini and Klemperer back in the early 60s).

The concert consisted of a number of overtures and short concert pieces and vocal arias or solos sung by Susan Graham. At the end of the concert, Graham sang Auld Lang Sein. Renee Flemming hosted the concert and interviewed by Graham and Maazel.

Maazel mentioned the history of the orchestra, back to the days of Gustav Mahler, and then Bruno Walter and Leonard Bernstein. He said that an opera overture is a promise of the best of what is to come – but many more modern operas do not have overtures. He said that only a few operas do well as concert pieces without stage work, but these include Elektra. Falstaff and La Traviata. Opera is essentially a stage, dramatic and visual art form as well as a musical one, and he suggests that it fits well into film.

As for the program, Verdi’s “La forza del destino” overture always struck me as a determined battle between A minor and E major. The Seguidilla and Habanera from Carmen are well known to piano students, who nearly always learn a piano transcriptions during about the third year of piano studies (particularly the Habanera). The Falla “Ritual Fire Dance” has always struck me as repetitive (like Ravel’s Bolero), and the ending, with the repeated dominant chords before the final A minor octave is a bit much. I remember “Malaguena” from the Andalucian Suite by Ernesto Lecouna as a similar piece, given to bombast in its popular piano transcription.

I worked for a while, in 2003, selling subscriptions by phone to the National Symphony Orchestra (through a Canadian company called Arts Marketing), and I recall that Renee Fleming was a big draw when she performed.

I went to the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center a few times when I lived in New York City 1974-1978. When I think of the place, I recall the scene in TheWB's "Everwood" where the piano prodigy Ephram Brown (Gregory Smith) plays a Chopin Etude on an outdoor electric piano, in an episode before his audition with Julliard busts because of his relationship with his father -- one of the saddest sequences ever in dramatic television (aired in 2004).

The New Years Eve program consisted of these items:

Overture to La forza del destino

Overture to La gazza ladra

"Deh per questo istante solo" from La clemenza di Tito K. 621, with Susan Graham

"Vilja's song" from The Merry Widow, with Susan Graham (the audience was invited to sing along at a couple of points)

Danse Macabre

Hungarian Dance No. 5

Can-Can from Orpheus in the Underworld (I heard a middle school orchestra perform the overture when I was substitute teaching)

Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman

Prelude to Act III of Carmen

"L'Amour est un oiseau rebelle", from Carmen (Habañera), with Susan Graham

"Près des ramparts de Séville" from Carmen (Seguidilla), with Susan Graham (let me add here, my favorite Bizet piece is the triumphant "Patrie Overture" -- that would have made a great selection for this concert)

"Ritual Fire Dance" from El Amor Brujo

I'll make another suggestion: I wish Maazel had performed Sir Arthur Sullivan's majestic tribute to his father, "In Memoriam", a curiously moving and majestic pieces, some of it in 5/4 time.

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