The New York Philharmonic switched venues for an evening and presented a concert combing forces with Carnegie Hall and Renée Fleming. With pieces ranging from Respighi, and Mussorgsky, to a jointly co-commissioned piece, the concert was truly an eclectic mix of old and new.
First on the bill was Ottorino Respighi’s Fontane di Roma. This piece really set the tone for the evening foreshadowing what was to come with its Straussian themes and modern-feeling melodies. Modern for 1916, that is.
The evening was the third part of Renée Fleming’s Prospective Series which concludes May 4, 2013. But on the night of April 26, 2013, the focus was on the world premeire of Anders Hillborg’s piece for orchestra and solo soprano voice. And for an instant, the focus was on Ms. Fleming as she took the stage in a stunning, swirling concoction of a dress that deserved it’s own ovation. Her dress might also have been a means of foreshadowing with its swishing torrent of dark and light blues, and a long, flowing train.
I am always perplexed when there are electronic supertitles on display during a concert of an English setting. It is almost as if the point is not driven home hard enough that what you are hearing is, in fact, the English language. It is especially annoying when the concert is in an English speaking country. If the text is not served well, then the fault is that of the interpreter. Thankfully we did not have that problem. Ms. Fleming’s diction has not always been her strongest suit, but she emoted with such depth of passion from the text, that one did not need the floating poetry set below the proscenium arch. Said haunting text was the beautiful poetry of Canadian born Mark Strand picked by Ms. Fleming herself. She and the composer sorted through volumes of his work to produce the evenings song cycle.
The music of this co-commissioned piece was supplied by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. Ms. Fleming has been a great supporter of new music over the course of her career, and had long been after Mr. Hillborg to create a new composition for orchestra and voice. After a lengthy process of searching for the right text and composing, the final end result was a triumph at best, and in every sense. Furthered by that great American institution of instruments lead by the wildly passionate Alan Gilbert.
The one thing that was lacking was the length of the piece. Four settings is far too short when the music is that gripping and fresh. Much like the first fruit of spring, after a long, harsh winter, one just wants to dig in and keep eating! That is exactly the feeling I had after listening to the final repeated refrain. Most modern atonal music of today feels so sporadic and unattached from the text. Mr. Hillborg’s music was the perfect fit to Mr. Strand’s words. He set the vocal line so closely to speech during the first set titled "The Black Sea" that the text sprang forth into the hall, and was alive in Ms. Fleming’s voice. There was no need for random octave leaps between vowels to express meaning, his music was so naturalistic and melodic. Profound without pretension, the piece came to its climax with the phrase, “Into the arms of strangers who step into their light, which is the mascara of Eden” during the third movement "Dark Harbor XXXV."
The composition was met with thunderous applause as all the creative forces joined together on stage to take their well deserved bow.
The evening concluded with Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.
For more information about Renée Fleming, click here.
For more information about Anders Hillborg, click here.
For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.