The 2017 Concert Season begins

marty

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Opening night for a new concert season is always an exciting event. Although it doesn’t garner quite the same anticipation of going to school on opening day when I was a kid, there is still something special about it. This year, it was more special than usual. To begin, the New York Philharmonic has a new conductor, Jaap Van Zweden (pronounced “Yahp van ZVAY-den") and the program was Mahler’s 5th symphony, arguably one of the pinnacles of the romantic repertoire, at least for me. The NY Phil has always been an excellent orchestra, however in recent years it didn’t fare particularly well with Alan Gilbert at the helm. Having lived in DFW from 2003-2011 I had the privilege of hearing Jaap conduct the Dallas Symphony regularly, and always thought he should be tagged for one of the big five someday. Imagine how you would feel when you suddenly land a new pre-amp that transformed the system you thought you knew so well. Well, multiply that by a factor of a log or more for a new conductor of a superb orchestra. Combine this with the fact that Jaap is a damned good Mahlerite and now yer talkin’. I still remember his Mahler 1 from a few years ago in DFW which blew me away. After last night, I’m thinking of printing tee shirts with what should be the new theme for the NY Phil this year: “Holy crap with Jaap!”.

If that’s not enough, imagine getting not only a new pre-amp that transforms your system, but a new amp as well. That’s exactly what the NY Phil got when it snared Chris Martin away from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to play Principal trumpet. Chris Martin is arguably the finest trumpet player in the world and is as acknowledged as such by many. To his many credits, Chris was selected as the trumpet player for the once-in-lifetime remake of the brass works by Gabrieli by the National Brass Ensemble.

Side Bar: In 1996 there was the original "once-in-a-lifetime" recording of the brass players from the greatest US orchestras. They called themselves the National Brass Ensemble. In 2015, my good friend (and fellow ophthalmologist Joe Markoff, who also fills in as a trumpet player with the Philadelphia Orchestra from time to time), decided to sponsor a new recording of the best brass players in the US through his alma mater, the Oberlin Music School. The new recording, engineered by Michael Bishop (formerly at Telarc) is as good a brass recoding as was ever made according to the reviews. You can buy it from Amazon, or you can download it in DSD for Native DSD. I'll be honest and tell you that as good as it is, I can't listen to the entire thing in one sitting because the music doesn't quite do it for me. But for demo purposes, wow.*I actually like the original piece written by John Williams more than many of the Gabrieli pieces, but if you’re a brass player, Gabrieli and this recording in particular, is their “Olympus”.

https://www.amazon.com/Gabrielli-Na...04139&sr=1-1&keywords=national+brass+ensemble
http://csosoundsandstories.org/nati...ws-gabrielis-horn-for-homage-to-iconic-album/

But I digress. Back to M5. Needless to say, between Jaap Van Zweden and Chris Martin whose opening trumpet notes set the stage for an incredible performance, and the fact that I finally found seats in Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center that didn’t suck, it was a hell of a night. The recently renamed Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher Hall) is one of the worst concert halls in America. Remade twice (the most recent in 1976 by the famed acoustician Cyril Harris) it always was and still is a major disappointment. Harris died in 2011 at age 93 and went to heaven where hopefully, he finally got to hear what trumpets really sound like. The hall is closing again next year for yet another remake and will be closed for a year. We shall see if the surely expensive acousticians they hire can finally resurrect this place to a good sounding hall.

In any event, Mahler 5 is a flat-out masterpiece. It was written at a turbulent time in his life during in 1901-1902. He was just ousted as the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic due to anti-Semitism, but fell in love with his future wife Alma, married and had their first child. He spent the summer of 1902 completing the symphony in a secluded cottage on one of the lakes in Austria. The five-movement symphony is a stunner of strength after strength, rooted in life (as all of Mahler’s symphonies) but this is one of his most optimistic and joyous works (unlike the 6th, which is so dark it makes me want to put a gun to my head and pull the trigger). The 5th starts with a mighty funeral march (one of Mahler’s recurrent themes throughout his works), followed by a stormy first movement, a magnificent scherzo (my favorite movement), and then a gorgeous adagietto. The adgietto is scored only for strings and a harp and was written as a love poem to his wife Alma, who was famous in her own right mostly for sleeping with 3 other prominent men at the same time she was married to Mahler. To say their marriage was rocky is an understatement, but they did in fact remain married until Mahler’s death in 1911. Although their marriage certainly contributed to the discord often translated to music in Mahler’s later symphonies, at least the adagietto here reflects a time of pure beauty, sweetness and musical poetry in Mahler’s life. It’s pretty easy to shed a tear during this movement. The piece then concludes with a rousing rhondo finale that really did bring the house down as it jumped to its feet giving Jaap and the NY Phil several ovations, with the loudest clapping and whistling going to Chris Martin when Jaap pointed to him specifically.

A few final pearls. This year is the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, its famed conductor and renowned Mahler interpreter. Mahler was of course, the conductor of the NY Philharmonic in 1909-1910 after leaving Vienna. But in fact, Mahler’s rise in popularity as a composer in the 1950’s and 60’s has been directly attributed to Bernstein, who conducting of Mahler “put Mahler on the map” in the world classical music scene. When he died in 1990, Lenny was buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn- with a copy of Mahler’s Fifth symphony.

There’s more. To bring it full circle, Bernstein was the first person to hand Jaap van Zweden a baton and incredibly, for a Mahler symphony! In 1987 Bernstein toured with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and in Berlin, when he asked the then concertmaster van Zweeden to conduct the first movement of Mahler’s first symphony while he checked the acoustics of the hall. And thus, three NY Philharmonic music directors are forever intertwined.

Next up, Martha Argerich at Carnegie Hall in October. It’s going to be a very good year.
 
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Steve Williams

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I always enjoy reading your reviews of symphonies you have attended Marty.

Too bad about the crappy hall

But to everyone who is reading this, Marty and me and our wives are going to Chicago Symphony Hall in April to hear a great orchestra in a great hall.. Come join us! Please PM me for details. We will be spending a few days in Chicago next April
 

tdimler

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Great report. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Seeing Martha would be a dream....she's playing Prokofiev 3, correct? Only thing better would be to see her in recital again but doubt this is in the cards!

TD
 

marty

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Great report. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Seeing Martha would be a dream....she's playing Prokofiev 3, correct? Only thing better would be to see her in recital again but doubt this is in the cards!

TD

Yup, Prokofiev 3. She rarely plays in the USA so I'm looking forward to it. (Also playing is Respighi's Fountains/Pines which ain't too shabby)
 

astrotoy

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Thanks Marty for the review and some very interesting facts about Mahler, Bernstein and van Zweden. Jaap interestingly made a detour to Hong Kong for a few years conducting the HK Philharmonic. He had been preceeded by another Dutchman, Edo de Waart, who conducted the Hong Kong Phil about a decade ago, near the end of his career, while Jaap is closer to the mid point. He is scheduled to continue his post in HK until the end of the decade, while he begins his time with the NYP.

The famous Adagietto of the Mahler 5 gained great prominence in the early 70's when Visconti used the theme for his movie "Death in Venice." Based on the Thomas Mann short novel, Visconti changed the lead character Aschenbach from an author to a composer/conductor - with, I think, at least a bit of a reference to Mahler.

Great to hear about the NYP getting a great trumpet player. I'll have to find that CD. I worked with Michael Bishop while writing my Decca book for FIM and Winston Ma. Michael remastered two of the four CD's in the book and his partner Robert Friedrich remastered the other two, all under the watchful eyes and ears of Winston. It was a great opportunity for me, getting a chance to hear the back and forth between producer Winston and engineers Michael and Robert, including getting a chance to hear some of the tests that they did - with Winston rejecting some, from these multi Grammy award winning engineers.

Argerich should be great, that is, if she doesn't cancel. She did a lot of that earlier in her career. The Prokofiev 3 (paired with the Ravel G major) with Abbado is one of earlier and greatest recordings - my first introduction to her playing, back in the '60's. Good luck.

The NYP has had its ups and downs with conductors. As I understand, Zubin Mehta who was there for 13 years (late '70's to early 90's) - a very long time for the NYP, had mixed reviews, with his successor, Kurt Masur given credit for bringing back discipline and quality to the orchestra. Then another senior conductor, Lorin Maazel whom we heard in 2014, a few months before he died, conducting the Vienna Phil in Berkeley. Then the youngish Gilbert (like Bernstein a Harvard grad) whose parents both were in the orchestra IIRC.

Larry
 
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marty

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Another great night at Carnegie Hall

Last night at Carnegie was a delight. Maher's magnificent 3rd symphony (6 movements so somewhat more than a typical symphony) was performed by Zubin Mehta and the Israeli Philharmonic. Perhaps the most impressive thing about last night was that Zubin Mehta is even walking at age 83, no less conducting for 2+ hours standing up without a score or without having to pee. It is Mahler's longest symphony and performed without intermission. He did however seem less vigorous than when I saw him conduct last year. But I'll happily see him again as he has turned into an accomplished Mahlerite at this tender age. Lovely performance for sure. The voices were superb.

Look at the stage. Double tympani, double harp, two choirs of over 100+, not to mention off-stage trumpets. Try reproducing all that at home folks!

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Unfortunately, going to a live performance such as this always yields the same results when I return home. I have zero interest in turning on the system for a day or two. Not unexpected perhaps until I realize that my room is not Carnegie Hall, nor could I afford the tariff of hiring the band. Once reality returns however, it does provoke that good old eternal audiophile question "Hmmm, what can I do to try and get a little further out the room so to speak, by making a small incremental improvement towards the exit even though I already know I can never crack that barrier." Ah, the joy of being an audiophile. Frustration, reward, frustration again and more reward. It never ends!
 

bonzo75

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Mahler 3rd and 7th are my favorite Mahler's.
 

R Johnson

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.... But to everyone who is reading this, Marty and me and our wives are going to Chicago Symphony Hall in April to hear a great orchestra in a great hall.. Come join us! Please PM me for details. We will be spending a few days in Chicago next April

I have subscribed to CSO concerts for over 40 years (for pretty much every Thursday night). I hope you guys will enjoy your visit to Chicago.

I was wondering what seating area(s) you have selected and how you made the decision. My preferences are the Lower Balcony and the Gallery. Considering that I do about 30-35 concerts per year, I usually sit in the Gallery at a fraction of the price of the Lower Balcony.

The Gallery is roughly comparable to the Balcony at Carnegie. I recall that a year or two ago Marty tried the Balcony and liked the sound there. (It looks like Marty heard the Mahler 3 from the First Tier). When I finally had the chance to attend a concert at Carnegie two years ago, I chose Balcony seats as being comparable to my usual seats in Orchestra Hall. The Gallery has some advantages -- good direct elevator service, lobby space, restrooms, and rails to prevent toppling on the people in the row below.

(I'm still upset that NY lured Chris Martin away...)
 

marty

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I have subscribed to CSO concerts for over 40 years (for pretty much every Thursday night). I hope you guys will enjoy your visit to Chicago.

I was wondering what seating area(s) you have selected and how you made the decision. My preferences are the Lower Balcony and the Gallery. Considering that I do about 30-35 concerts per year, I usually sit in the Gallery at a fraction of the price of the Lower Balcony.

The Gallery is roughly comparable to the Balcony at Carnegie. I recall that a year or two ago Marty tried the Balcony and liked the sound there. (It looks like Marty heard the Mahler 3 from the First Tier). When I finally had the chance to attend a concert at Carnegie two years ago, I chose Balcony seats as being comparable to my usual seats in Orchestra Hall. The Gallery has some advantages -- good direct elevator service, lobby space, restrooms, and rails to prevent toppling on the people in the row below.

(I'm still upset that NY lured Chris Martin away...)

How the NY Phil got Chris Martin is a gift I do not question. However a reserve trumpet player w the Philly Orch who is a friend told me there was apparently a surprising amount of ill will between Martin and other CSO players which apparently prompted the move.

Last year, I was in Chicago on business and happened to see there were great Box seats available for Muti/Pictures at an Exposition so I went at the last minute. While I was in the Box, I befriended many of the "regulars", who gave me their preference for which seats sounded best (in their opinion). Their universal response was Lower Balcony and not surprisingly, Box level. So this time, with plenty of advance planning, I found the center lower box available for the concert Steve and I will attend on April 5th. What is really strange and unusual about the Box seats at Chicago Symphony Center is that you cannot buy a specific seat. Rather it is understood among the regulars that the proper courtesy is to rotate the seats within the box after intermission. I am unaware this is done in any other hall I know about. That said, I found the first row of the center box to unequivocally be the finest concert hall seat I have ever had, with the analogous seats at the sonically superb Powell Hall in St. Louis to be its near equal. Even the center box, first Tier at Carnegie are not its equal simply because those seats is located about 50 feet further back from the stage compared to Chicago and St. Louis. The difference between the balcony at Carnegie (which has outstanding sound) and the center box at Chicago, is that the Carnegie balcony presents a very homogenous sound field where instrument localization is diminished in comparison to the First or Second Tiers. But the power and the majesty of the sound is spectacular in the balcony. What the center box at Chicago offers is incredible localization of each and every instrument and section as well as great power and majesty of the sound of the hall. No seat I've ever had combines those two quite as well. I hope to re-visit that hall at least yearly. That will be especially important since the horror show known as Geffen Hall (home of the NY Phil) will be shut down for the next year or so as they attempt to "fix it" yet again. (I'm also eager to get to Walt Disney Hall in LA sometime soon). I consider myself fortunate to still have Carnegie as our home base.
 
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R Johnson

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Thanks for your observations on various seating positions and halls, Marty. I hope you are able to sit in the front seats at least for part of the concert. And if not, that the other seats are nearly as good.

I've never heard a CSO concert from the boxes. I've heard several operas from box seats at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Not too bad if all the seats are taken, but otherwise rather cramped. I'd prefer regular fixed seats one level above.

On Thursday February 1, I have tickets for Muti and the CSO in the Gallery. On the following Saturday I've been invited to attend (the same program) in the Box seats. It should be an interesting comparison.

I too would like to attend a concert at Disney Hall sometime soon. Where to sit in such a "vineyard" style hall? I think "front" is best, but they sell lots of seat behind, and to the sides of the orchestra....
 

astrotoy

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We've been at Disney once, sitting to the side of the orchestra, in pretty expensive seats. I was quite pleased with the sonics. Even though Disney is not a shoe box, it reminded me of the very fine sound we had at both Symphony Hall in Boston and especially at the Musikverein in Vienna sitting about half way back in the hall on the side. Obviously, Disney is quite a striking building from the outside.

We heard Muti and the CSO three times last month during their west coast tour in Berkeley. They had a strictly central European program (Bruckner 4, Brahms 2 and 3, Mozart Clarinet Con, Rossini William Tell, Schubert 8, Schumann 2), except for one piece by their young resident composer, Elizabeth Ogonek. As long time goers to the SFS Symphony, we were very sad when the SFS top notch tympanist, David Herbert, defected to the CSO a few years back. We got to hear lots of his playing over that weekend. He publicly stated his unhappiness with the SFS administration (not MTT or his fellow orchestra members) before he left for Chicago in 2013. So these things do happen, though relatively rarely.

I attended a few concerts in the old orchestra hall, growing up near Chicago - though I don't remember much of the experience - Reiner was conducting in those days and my parents would take me on occasion- I was probably about 10 or 11.

Larry
 

astrotoy

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As a change of pace, we just got tickets to see Joan Baez who will be on her "Fare Thee Well" tour in 2018. They are at the Royal Albert Hall on May 28th, on our annual sojourn to London. All the dates so far (March, May and June) are for Europe. Hopefully she will extend the tour to the US later in the year. She had said this will be her last tour. She is 76.

Larry
 

marty

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I see that the CSO concert that Marty and Steve were planning to attend is this week.

https://cso.org/ticketsandevents/pr...ny-orchestra/ravel-daphnis-chloe/?perfNo=8536

Enjoy! I hope you are able to get the front two seats for part of the concert. While the design of the box and the chairs tries to keep good views for the other seats, it's not the same.

Yes, we attended the CSO concert and were in Box K. As you know, the Chicago Symphony Hall box seating does not have assigned seats. Rather, they encourage rotation during the program. (I know of no other hall in the world where that is the case for their premier box seats). We sat in the second row of the box during the first half, but were in the front 2 seats for Daphnis and Chloe, which is what we wanted. Fortunately there was an empty box to our right which our wives commandeered so they had front row as well! I must admit that as good as Carnegie Hall is, depending on the seat of course, I have yet to find better concert seat than the dead center boxes, front row, at Chicago Symphony Hall. (It has become the reference standard for what I'm trying to reproduce at home.) If you don't think there is such a thing as soundstaging, or that bass is non-directional, you really should experience a concert from these seats. Fortunately, this is the hall in which many of the famous RCA Living Stereo recordings were made by Richard Mohr and Lewis Layton under Fritz Reiner and the CSO, so playing those recordings conjure up the actual space in a very meaningful "you are there" way.

A few relevant comments: To begin, for the box seats, you are about at the same height as the microphones used for recording. So the recording perspective slightly above the orchestra is quite similar to the actual listening experience. When the chorus is present, as it was for Dahnis and Chloe, they occupy the elevated gallery seats directly behind the orchestra, which is the same height as the Box seats. So the sound is coming from directly in front of you and totally unimpeded. Spectacular in the best sense. Steve may have snapped a pic during the encore applauses to better showcase the perspective that I hope he'll post. For the Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand played beautifully before intermission by Jean Yves Thibaudet, the piano lid of the 9 foot Steinway D was angled right to our ears about 40 feet away. I'll tell you, the timbre, purity and power of those low bass note were something to behold. Unfortunately, it was a classic "don't try this at home, kids". It just ain't happening, no matter what what gear you have! Hence, this is the majesty of live music which we all aspire to reproduce. All in all, a wonderful experience but it won't be my last. This my second trip to that box. When single concert seats for the CSO are released in August, I scour the season to see what concerts have the center boxes available. It's rare, but there are a few. With some luck I'd love to catch Carmina Burana there someday. That would really be something.
 

R Johnson

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I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the concert and had the front chairs for the Daphnis and Chloe.
It was an excellent concert.

If you'd like a sonic spectacular next season, Esa-Pekka Salonen is conducting "Also sprach Zarathustra" and "Bluebeard's Castle" (with Michelle DeYoung and John Relyea) on 3/28, 3/29, 3/30 and 4/02. Bolt your chair to the floor for the fifth door.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
I am only just seeing these last few posts

Indeed arty and I and our wives met in Chicago for a few days of great dining and the Chicago Symphony as Marty has described. It was simply spellbinding to hear Daphnis and Chloe with a full 130 member choir behind the orchestra

I have never heard the piano concerto for the left hand and all I can say is that listening to that piece with eyes closed I would swear both hands were being played.

As Marty described the seats were perfect. In the first half I sat second row right and for the second half (Daphnis and Chloe) I sat first row left. I was amazed at how that minor change resulted in big differences in the sound
 

ljubisa05

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Has anyone here been to some European concerts? In Italy I found some of the best little concert halls with such talented orchestras performing. Actually all around the Europe, the quality of the sound this people are able to produce... Dont know if its the old buildings or what kind of witchcraft...
 

marty

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Has anyone here been to some European concerts? In Italy I found some of the best little concert halls with such talented orchestras performing. Actually all around the Europe, the quality of the sound this people are able to produce... Dont know if its the old buildings or what kind of witchcraft...

I am in London and thanks to a recommendation from Ked, found myself tonight at an LSO concert at Barbican Hall, which is a nice warm-sounding hall. (Ked probably likes it because the entire back-stage wall looks like it was designed by Shun Mook!) I heard Sibelius' 5th (not my cup of tea) and some god awful premier of a modern commissioned work. But the gem was the Elgar Cello Concerto performed spectacularly by a German cellist named Daniel Mueller-Schott. He had it all, superb technique, emotion and intellect. It was the best I ever heard that piece performed live.
 
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bonzo75

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Glad you liked it. Were you in the stalls, center?
 

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