(1911 version, complete ballet score)
Ravel: Concerto for
the Left Hand (1929-30)
Ives: Orchestral Set
No. 1: Three Places in New England (c. 1911-14.
of the main attractions during the New York
Philharmonic’s festival of the music of Charles
Ives, conductor Lorin Maazel gave a brilliantly
precise reading of Three Places in New
England. Maazel even had the admirable
nerve to place this last on the program,
and I noted with pleasure that almost everyone
in the packed hall had stayed to hear it,
contrary to conventional wisdom about audiences
fleeing from 20th-century works.
What a shame that this score seems so absent
from the concert hall. (Kudos to Maazel’s
predecessor Kurt Masur, who according to the
program notes gave the full orchestral version
its first Philharmonic performance in 1994,
and then reprised it again in 1998.)
own comment following the premiere in 1931
was, "Just like a town meeting – every
man for himself," and that pretty much
describes the rousing chaos of the piece.
The first movement has a long title, The
"St. Gaudens" in Boston Common (Col.
Shaw and his Colored Regiment), and Ives
wrote a companion poem whose final line bears
repeating: "In the silence of a strange
and sounding afterglow, moving – marching
– faces of souls!" In Maazel’s finely
detailed performance one could sense the afterglow,
the marching and the souls, all vying for
attention in the composer’s inimitable universe.
gleefully anarchic second movement, Putnam’s
Camp, Redding, Connecticut, with its fleeting
glimpses of hymn tunes racing by, seems as
invigoratingly "American" as it
gets. At the climax, the orchestra reaches
a breathlessly frenzied passage with seemingly
each instrument in motion contrary to the
others, all stabbing at a pounding volume
level. The startling ending suddenly shears
off, as if someone had abruptly torn the last
page in half right in the middle of the performance.
The final movement, The Housatonic at Stockbridge,
has effects evocative of mist, meadows and
running water and can seem quite magical,
as it did here. The audience responded by
bringing out Maazel four times.
many in the audience, the high point of the
evening was Leon Fleisher in the Ravel, delivered
with elegance and style to spare. Fleisher
has made news in the last few years for regaining
some use of his right hand – wonderful news,
of course, but he doesn’t need it to own this
particular piece. If he didn’t do a note-perfect
performance, he more than made up with poetry
overflowing. As he plunged into the final
haunting cadenza, I was close enough to the
orchestra to watch as one of the viola players,
a young woman, closed her eyes in pleasure
and gently nodded, as Fleisher’s strong tone
floated out through the house. Maazel provided
sturdy, glittering accompaniment, nicely paced,
with an especially vivid crash at the end
of the long introduction before the piano
makes its initial entrance. Special praise,
also, to the percussion players and to a really
lustrous-sounding brass section.
Stravinsky somehow did not have the final
edge that it needs to be fully aloft, even
though the orchestra sounded wonderful, as
they seem to these days with this conductor.
Although beautifully played, to be sure, with
some (again) eager brass and outstandingly
vivid and alert work by pianist Eric Huebner,
to these ears the score seemed less "ballet-like,"
with a heaviness that would not be my first
choice of the many ways to do this work.
small appendix to this article, during this
concert I tried out a new device that the
Philharmonic calls a "Concert Companion,"
actually a pocket PC (an IPAQ by Hewlett-Packard,
for those interested) that uses wireless technology
to deliver program notes, real-time commentary
on the piece being performed, and a live video
feed showing the conductor’s face and hands,
courtesy of a camera on the back wall behind
the orchestra. Originally developed by the
Kansas City Symphony, the device seems most
valuable for the instant commentary, delivered
to the near second, in the same manner that
surtitles appear for say, an opera. I have
heard Petrushka dozens of times, but
still found the comments (by writer and critic
Gregory Sandow) well-considered, even mildly
amusing, such as "There go those flutes
live video feed needs some rethinking. The
image was too bright, so few of Maazel’s facial
expressions could be made out, although the
small size of the screen would have made this
difficult at best in any case. And there was
a brief delay now and then – a slight jerkiness
– in the image that made it impossible to
reconcile the maestro’s hand movements on
screen with the music that was being heard.
device is completely noiseless, and the stylus
provided is not really necessary; a fingertip
works nicely. A friend was even able to re-boot
his when it crashed during the performance.
Personally, most of the time I prefer to get
background and explanatory notes either before
or after the music itself, since I don’t like
reading and listening simultaneously. Similar
to recorded tours of art museum exhibitions,
for which outside comments are sometimes welcome,
occasionally one might be just as happy in
the companionship of the art itself, without
any distractions. Reading about music seems
mostly a left-brain activity, while listening
to it is decidedly a right-brain pursuit.
Nevertheless, this is an experiment certainly
worth pursuing, and this device would be quite
valuable to those tackling a new, complex,
or unfamiliar work, and certainly to anyone
new to classical music.