Susan and I heard a concert by the New York Philharmonic on 11/2/17. Remember I saw the *Star Wars* movies in September and October? Well, in order to have access to those tickets, I had to buy a subscription to the NY Phil, I had to choose four other normal NY Phil concerts. This was the first - - I chose this one because they were playing *Rhapsody in Blue,* a piece I've always loved and had never heard live.
They programmed the Gershwin with two pieces by Leonard Bernstein. They opened with *Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs,* a very exciting, jazzy piece by Bernstein, written for a small ensemble (about 20 pieces) of winds, drums, piano, bass, and a flashy solo clarinet part. The Phil's principal clarinetist, Anthony McGill, played the solo, and played the hell out of it. Alan Gilbert seemed to be having a good time conducting the piece. It was the highlight of the concert, by far.
The piano solo in *Rhapsody in Blue* was played by Makoto Ozone, who has a background in jazz piano, rather than classical piano (though he's played both). I really hated what he did with the piece, he practically ruined it. There are many sections of the piece where the piano plays alone, without the orchestra, and in those sections Ozone played music I had never heard before - - probably two thirds of the time he was writing completely new music. This isn't typical, based on the four or five recordings of the piece I've heard. Those pianists all played the same thing, the music that Gershwin wrote. Ozone started off playing his own version of the music, maybe playing the melody but in a new harmonic or rhythmic context. I sort of liked that, that was OK. But then when he started going off script, that made me angry. I'm sure he had the support of Alan Gilbert in doing this, I'm sure it wasn't a surprise, but that's not what I was there to hear. It was so bad that at the end of each piano solo, I noticed Gilbert raising his arms and looking at Ozone over his shoulder, waiting for his solo to end so he could bring in the orchestra. I saw Gilbert doing this, and said to myself, "Oh thank you, this solo is almost over."
One other random note about their performance of the piece: The big love theme in the middle of the piece has little pings by the glockenspiel (or maybe it's a xylophone). This guy played them way too loud. They should sound like the delicate ping of a distant, twinkling star. This was a 48-point font PING, it could have killed small game at twenty feet. Kinda broke the mood.
They played Bernstein's Symphony #2, *The Age of Anxiety,* named after a book-length poem by W. H. Auden. The grand design of the piece and the varied orchestration owe a lot to Mahler. Parts of it sounded like Mahler, and one moment sounded eerily like Shostakovich. Most of the piece sounded like Bernstein, but not his best. It sounded like he wrote this piece as a way of proving that he's not just someone who writes show tunes, he could also write serious music. This isn't a useful agenda to have when writing a piece of music. It was flabby, self-important, and torpid. I forgive him, but I don't have to hear it again.