Friday, January 21, 2011

January: Radu Lupu and the New York Philharmonic

I'm usually a fairly discerning audience member: I've been fortunate to hear the world's greatest orchestras multiple times over, and when a concert is anything less than sublime, I leave having noticed a few inconsistencies here and there. But tonight, I was probably the best audience member a musician could wish for. All I wanted was to be played to, to be sung familiar melodies and carried along a sea of beautiful sounds. Brahms 1st Piano Concerto and Dvorak's 8th Symphony, two of my all-time favorites.

Radu Lupu looks a little like Brahms himself, portly, with bushy gray hair and a bushy gray beard. While I wasn't drawn into his every note as I have been with other pianists, I very much enjoyed the whole performance. OK, I thought the horn vibrato was weird and inappropriate for the solos, but he did it with conviction, so I went along with it. But I would have preferred to hear Radek Baborak...

Upon reflection, Radu Lupu struck me as more of a chamber musician than a soloist; he blended with the orchestra in a very organic way, and the piano and orchestra seemed to accompany each other. He isn't imposing or flashy, he is humble in front of the instrument, and as an effect, the piano blends cohesively with the orchestra. This may also be why the piano solo didn't make a particular impression on me other than, "I love this. I am so happy to be hearing Brahms right now."

Brahms was followed by Dvorak's 8th, another old-time friend. Sometimes I'll turn on the 8th or the 7th and blast the third movements on my stereo. It's that powerful brass, the punctuated rhythms, the lyrical folk dances that get me every time, that make me want to grab my horn and blow along, or the nearest person and spin around the room. And the NY Phil did it superbly. The basses sounded particularly strong, and I wanted to leap out of my seat at one point with their energy.

I do think it's unfortunate that an orchestra that can shine so brightly plays in such a dull space. Imagine how they would have sounded tonight at Carnegie Hall, or the Philharmonie. The hall really makes me sad as a musician, and even sadder as a listener, because the joy of hearing live music diminishes when you struggle to hear muffled sounds. We need exceptional spaces for live music, to make the experience of going to a concert feel infinitely better than listening to a recording at home.

Still, Brahms and Dvorak were brought to life tonight. For my first classical concert in awhile, I was delighted to just sit back and enjoy. No (or few) judgments, just music.

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