Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Irish Chamber Orchestra with Leon Fleisher at the Piano

Your correspondent managed to escape any possible Halloween evening unpleasantness when he was surprised with a gift to see the Irish Chamber Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center.  It was a remarkable concert.
A word first about the Irish Chamber Orchestra: the orchestra is recognized as one of Ireland’s greatest cultural assets.  This year, the orchestra will conduct an extensive US tour as part of the Imagine Ireland/A Year of Irish Arts in America 2011 with pianist Leon Fleisher.
The orchestra is conducted by Gerard Korsten and is led by Katherine Hunka.  Both are to be commended for making the Irish Chamber Orchestra a cultural force to be reckoned with.
Of course the story of Leon Fleisher is well-known.  One of the greatest pianists of his generation, Fleisher lost the use of his right hand at the height of his career.  Following this disaster, he mastered many one-handed pieces--before many decades later, he regained use of his right hand.  It is one of those dramatic, highly emotional stories that the world of classical music seems to so richly provide.
Alice Tully Hall, home of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, has been refurbished over the past few years.  I find the redesign of the concert hall to be a welcome change – it is a comfortable room that acoustically creates a very full sound.  Some find the acoustics generate a sound too loud for chamber music, but, as my tastes run towards orchestral pieces, I find it perfect.  Unfortunately, the hallways seem more mindful of a Soviet detention center, and the security staff needs to be better trained.  (Note to Alice Tully Hall – tell security that this is not Stalinist Russia.)
The concert opened with the Symphony No. 96 in D major, “The Miracle,” by Joseph Haydn.  This was a delightful piece, played with a great deal of snap and verve by the orchestra.  Korsten conducted like a man made of music – he nearly danced before the musicians and his enthusiasm was infectious.  Wonderfully done.
Haydn was followed by the Concerto for Piano (Left Hand) and Orchestra No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 53 by Sergei Prokofiev.  Section I, Vivace, was an amusing and entertaining piece with a great deal of clockwork momentum.  This forward motion is not lost in the Andante, which is extremely powerful and mindful of emerging from some dream of transcendence.  The piece is complete with all the Russian fillips expected from Prokofiev and, true innovator that he was, the composer seems to end the piece in mid-note.  It is both jarring and effective.
The third piece was, sadly, the one misstep of the evening: Termon (On the 10th Anniversary of 9/11) for Uilleann Pipes and String Orchestra by Micheal O Suilleabhain.  The piece is filled with twee Irish shtick, delivered in a lugubrious manner to impart a sense of mourning.  If Termon is meant to inspire feelings of pain, it did.  Mostly in my ears.  Any other ambition was unmet.
(A parenthetical note here on the art of September 11th.  Perhaps no event in human history since the crucifixion has been so fetishized as the terrible events of Sept.11th.  Yes, it was a horrible day and dreadful things happened.  Yes, it was an affront to human reason and human dignity, and lives were cut short by barbarians in a brutal and terrible way.  But in 10 short years, more art commemorating 9/11 has been created than any representation of, say, the French Revolution, which is an historically more important event.  Could we please have a moratorium on September 11th until history allows us to better understand it?)
Happily, the concert ended with the sprightly Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, by Ludwig Van Beethoven.  Often undervalued among his symphonic works, No. 7 is magnificently joyful and energetic.  Amazingly, Symphony No. 7 was written largely while Beethoven was recovering from an illness, but you could not tell that from the composition.  It is a full-bodied, enthusiastic work, and the Irish Chamber Orchestra was equal to the task.  It was a delight to be there, and a performance of the No. 7 that I will never forget.
More information on the tour can be found here: http://ico-ustour.com.  If the Irish Chamber Orchestra tours near you, they are not to be missed. 

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