Great that the New York Philharmonic honored this uptown neighborhood with three commissioned premieres at Symphony Space, in a new series there. Maybe they thought a high-end program of young composers wouldn't float in the orchestra's Lincoln Center home.
Bloggers sat upstairs so their screens would not distract the substantial audience. Magnus Lindberg, Philharmonic composer-in-residence, who curated this concert, was on hand for a short chat. Music director Alan Gilbert introduced the pieces quietly--to the first few rows of the audience. He said "exciting": I got "expressive" and "broadcast on WQXR" before Soundcheck's John Shaefer, who knows a thing or two about speaking, bailed him out and talked to Sean Shepherd, the first composer.The music came across fine, but don't sit in the rear balcony for programs without trained speakers.
Shepherd's "These Particular Circumstances," seven uninterrupted episodes for chamber orchestra with percussion and harp, had graceful sonic glitter. He has a pleasing sense of sonority, tempo and proportion.
Nico Muhly's "Detailed Instructions" is what I realized I had come to hear. Tonally cast, it suggests melody more than timbre, with long-breathed solo phrases emerging from the texture of the small orchestra.
Muhly, 28, is hot now, with a new opera co-commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and the English National Opera: it has an Internet-based plot. He's a fast writer too: unlike Jacob Druckman who died before he ever finished his Met commission.
Some of this 12-minute piece has the calm of "Appalachian Spring," and some has the repetitive pseudo-melody of Philip Glass, whose protege Muhly is. Clearly written, firmly tonal and easy to follow, it has the promise and confident optimism I detected and wrote about in Jennifer Higdon's music, when I heard it in 2003. (She won the Pulitzer Prize last week, 7 years later, so remember what I'm saying about Muhly.)
I'd have been nowhere with my friend's mini-computer without Billy the IT (Internet Tech) guy.
Gilbert should either have respect for microphones or at least, respect for sounds that come out of the mouth, as in, speaking. Speaking of which, Matthew Pintcher's 27-minute "songs from Solomon's garden" for baritone, performed by Thomas Hampson, no less.
This was advanced listening from a disciplined German. Remote and severe with a serial feel, it had angry bongo percussion brass, with a soft instrumental interlude. Third Viennese School? Fourth? Why would he write Solomon's voluptuous words in that mid-century style? As for lighting, those who counted on using the translation from the Hebrew were in the dark in more than one sense.
Programs had composer bios but no discussion of the music. I'll say this for live blogging: no time for boredom, I was on high alert, and time flew by.
I was glad to be there, for what I learned of quirky machines and most important to me, new music. I might get my own mini and try again, though I wouldn't sit near anyone who could rightly punch me.
Someone curious about any aspect of this concert (and there are clearly several) can hear it Saturday night at the Met--Museum of Art, that is.