I heard the NY Philharmonic in a program of Ravel and Debussy on 1/17/18. The conductor was supposed to have been Charles Dutoit, but either withdrew or was fired over sexual allegations that came out a couple weeks ago. My boss's husband made some clever comment about this, a play on the word "withdrew." Ahem. The Philharmonic hired Joshua Weilerstein to conduct - - he had been Assistant Conductor at the Phil for three years and has been out and about making his reputation. He was wonderful, had beautiful control of the music and was a joy to watch, graceful, elegant conducting. It helps that he's young, blond, and slim. He looked like he was straight out of grad school. I just looked him up, he's just over 30 years old! Hm!
This was the program:
Ravel: *Le Tombeau de Couperin*
Ravel: Piano concerto for the left hand
Debussy, orchestrated by Ravel: *Sarabande et Danse*
Ravel: *Valses nobles et sentimentles*
Yes, the *Bolero* was one of the selling points on this concert. It's such a great piece, and it's always a treat to hear it live.
I'd never heard the *Tombeau de Couperin* before, what a gorgeous piece. Each movement inspired a set of impressions and images. The first movement had a shimmering melancholy. The second movement was chic - - if it were a dress, it would be Dior. This movement had some of Ravel's distinctive extended harmonies. He's of the "more is more" school. Why have three pitches in a chord, when you can have five or six? It doesn't cost any extra.
The third movement was a fairy tale. I could see a long road going up the mountainside to the castle. The movement ended with a pink pebble being dropped into a shallow stream. The final movement was splashy and had divine use of the harp, not drawing attention to itself, just adding color to the atmosphere.
I think it was my beloved music history professor, David Crook, who said that there's a French style of orchestration and a German style. The German style is a sort of Phil Spector "wall of sound:" dense, full, solid. The French style is transparent, diaphonous. Ravel is the master of this, you can always hear everything that's going on, it's all perfectly balanced. It takes real mastery, I'm sure.
The concerto for the left hand was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, a concert pianist who had lost his right arm on the Russian front in World War I. The program notes had a hilarious comment by him: "I wasn't overwhelmed by the composition. It always takes me a while to grow into a difficult work. I suppose Ravel was disappointed, and I was sorry, but I had never learned to pretend."
Our pianist was Jean-Yves Thibaudet, such a dazzling performer. He was wearing a burgundy and black jacket in a muted print, maybe a muted, abstract floral. There was something sparkly going on in there, too. The program notes said that his concert attire is by Vivienne Westwood. It's the sort of outfit that would have prompted Richard to say, "What is SHE wearing?"
The concerto made me realize that putting together an orchestral program is like putting together a meal: in this case, the first set was the appetizer, salad, and amuse bouche - - the concerto was the entree. It was boeuf Bourguignon. I think I may have run into a few of those pearl onions that my husband loves so much. It's a fascinating piece and Thibaudet and the orchestra played it to the hilt.
The Debussy/Ravel was sort of a throwaway. Let's call it a sorbet. Perfectly pleasant, but not worth writing home about.
The *Valses nobles et sentimentles* was a piece I'd never heard in the orchestral version (I've heard the piano version a few times). What a stunning piece of music. I didn't write any notes, I was too swept away. The one word I wrote was "lustrous."
The *Bolero* was, of course, sublime. What a fascinating piece of music.
I'll leave you with a cute little video about Weilerstein conducting the Czech Philharmonic.