Liz, David, Richard, and I heard The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space on 2/16/20. One of my favorite coworkers is Ethlouise Banks, who, like me, is a classically-trained singer. She's always curious to hear what I'm going on the weekend.
ME: And Sunday I'm hearing a concert by The Orchestra Now.
HER: I've never heard of them.
ME: Me neither. But the concert is free, and the location is handy, so what do I have to lose.
HER: What are they playing? ME: *Prelude to the Afternoon of Faun,* *Boléro,* *Petrushka*...
HER: These are all greatest hits, what are you doing there, even if it is free?
ME: ...and Messaien's *Les Offrades Oubliées.*
HER: Ah, now I understand.
Yes, it was the Messaien I was there to hear. I'm a huge Messaien fan, of all the composers I've heard in the history of Western classical music, he's the one who seems unique. His music sounds like no one else's. David asked a good question: he wrote this piece when he was 21 - - so who inspired HIM?
The Orchestra Now is a chamber orchestra of graduate students at Bard College in Hudson, NY. The group was founded by Bard's president, Leon Botstein. The performance we heard was conducted by Zachary Schwartzman. The concert had an engaging, casual vibe - - each piece was introduced by one of the players and the program notes were also written by the players.
The Debussy was divine, such a gorgeous piece. The four of us had lunch before the concert and David, who, like Ethlouise and me, is a classically trained musician, was saying he was looking forward to hearing all that whole tone business in the Debussy. Our spouses are NOT classically trained and chuckled at David showing off. David said, "Whole tone music is the music of someone looking abstractedly up and off to the side." Ha!
The Messaien was fascinating - - an abstract, reverent slow movement followed by a vigorous fast movement and concluding with another abstract, reverent slow movement. It had all the characteristics of Messaien but maybe not quite fully formed.
The Ravel knocked me out. It's one of the most famous classical pieces ever, but there's a reason for that, it's genius. It's a great piece to show off the hot shot players in the orchestra, and they were all fantastic. The principal flutist, Denis Savelyev, gets the highest marks in the concert - - he had major solo moments in all three of the war horses and his playing was stunning.
I told Liz and David about the first time I heard the piece - - one of my favorite high school teachers, Mr. Behar, showed a film of this performance by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It's now a delightful frozen-in-amber moment, with the clothes, the glasses, and especially the HAIR. My favorite moment in the piece is the shocking harmonic shift near the end, it never fails to take my breath away. I encourage you to watch/listen to this entire performance, but stay alert around 12:00 for the ramp-up - - the shift itself happens at 13:25. Astonishing.