The weather got here out for “The Components.”
A intelligent buddy made that remark on the New York Philharmonic’s live performance on Friday night, as town emerged from a deluge that broke information and inundated subways. The climate was in all probability a big a part of the rationale that David Geffen Corridor was pocked with an uncommon variety of empty seats for a efficiency that includes the star violinist Joshua Bell.
Bell was the soloist in — and instigator of — “The Elements,” a brand new suite of quick concerto-esque items impressed by the pure world, with 5 composers as contributors. He was the deal with Friday, simply as Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s admired, just-departed chief government, was on Wednesday on the orchestra’s season-opening gala.
On neither event was full consideration turned to the person on the rostrum, the season’s ostensible honoree: Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic’s music director, who’s leaving within the spring after a short, pandemic-interrupted tenure, earlier than Gustavo Dudamel arrives in 2026.
“Celebrate Jaap!” the orchestra’s advertising orders us (with an implied whisper of “…or else”). However the feeling is one in all saying goodbye earlier than we’ve actually gotten to know van Zweden — and of a person who’s been a participant within the Philharmonic’s latest historical past slightly than its chief.
The interval since he began, in 2018, will nearly actually be remembered for the ensemble’s survival by the lengthy pandemic shutdown, for the fast-tracked renovation of Geffen Corridor and for an inflow of up to date music, particularly by girls and composers of coloration. In these achievements, it was extra Borda’s Philharmonic than van Zweden’s.
His persona hasn’t come by in his alternative of works. Even within the form of items for which he was primarily employed — his predecessor, Alan Gilbert, was perceived as much less of a cultured taskmaster within the likes of Beethoven and Brahms — van Zweden has largely caught to essentially the most customary of the requirements. When the little-done twelfth Symphony of Shostakovich, a composer he conducts successfully, was performed by the Philharmonic for the primary time final season, it was underneath the baton of Rafael Payare.
So van Zweden’s time in New York feels a bit of faceless, and so quick that Steve Reich, whose “Jacob’s Ladder” premieres this week, was talked about in Friday’s program as a composer van Zweden has “championed” — apparently by main a single Reich piece, 4 years in the past. There’s the sense of the orchestra’s attempting to fabricate an id for a conductor who hasn’t been round lengthy sufficient to develop one organically.
This last season brings some firsts for him on the Philharmonic in core repertory: his first Schubert symphony, first Mendelssohn symphony, first Mozart Requiem. There’s extra Shostakovich and Brahms; yet one more Beethoven’s Fifth; Sofia Gubaidulina’s brooding, ferocious Viola Concerto, from 1996; and a handful of newer items.
His finale, in June, will likely be Mahler’s grand, choral Second Symphony, an all-purpose Philharmonic favourite for events each reflective (the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 assaults) and triumphant (Leonard Bernstein’s 1,000th live performance with the orchestra). In all this, there’s not a lot private style to be gleaned.
If van Zweden hasn’t had an idiosyncratic imaginative and prescient in his decisions of music, although, he has proven a constant, attribute type within the works he’s carried out. The standard Jaap-led symphony is tense, tight, punchy. He makes the Philharmonic’s sound glint and glare, particularly within the live-wire acoustics of the brand new Geffen Corridor, which may tip into harshness slightly than encouraging rounded, blended heat.
You get the impression that he’s been trying an evocation of the flashy, blazing, typically blaring reign of Georg Solti on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra within the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s, captured in influential recordings. However whereas the Philharmonic is a really high-quality ensemble, it isn’t fairly on the identical stage of flawlessly sensible precision as Solti’s Chicagoans.
So that you get the overbearing management and aggressive forcefulness with out the climactic grandeur or dumbfounding shine. I had by no means heard Copland’s Third Symphony, which the Philharmonic performed on Friday after “The Components,” sound so un-pastoral. This could typically be a saggy work, however van Zweden made it taut — and arid.
A pointy edge within the first motion saved the music shifting, and prevented sentimentality. Van Zweden introduced out the second motion’s machinelike movement, and the eerie transparency of the sluggish third, earlier than a finale — showcasing the traditional “Fanfare for the Widespread Man” — of lean focus. This was a Third with out a lot sweetness or sumptuousness.
It was nearly attention-grabbing, such a troublesome, grimly logical progress by the work — as if a mirrored image on a special United States than the one Copland was commemorating on the victorious shut of World Conflict II. And after years of the previous corridor’s undervaluing bass frequencies, it stays fantastic to really feel them so viscerally now; the readability of solos, notably within the winds, is spectacular.
Maybe surprisingly, given van Zweden’s base in older repertory and agency hand in symphonies, he’s been a sport and delicate chief of a broad swath of up to date music, and a thoughtful, by no means domineering concerto accompanist. On Wednesday, he was well mannered whilst Yo-Yo Ma was too light-textured to make a robust influence in Dvorak’s evergreen Cello Concerto.
And on Friday, van Zweden guided the orchestra eloquently and easily round Bell in “The Components.” However this 40-minute suite, an try to recast Vivaldi’s “4 Seasons” for our time, is principally syrupy schlock.
Kevin Places’s “Earth,” which begins and ends the work, has a sleepily saccharine part plainly borrowed from Copland, and a few madcap, off-kilter propulsion plainly borrowed from John Adams. Jake Heggie’s “Hearth” units off bursts of orchestral “sparks” and racing whimsy, trimmed with celesta. Jennifer Higdon’s “Air” is blooming, not notably ethereal; Jessie Montgomery’s “Area,” yet one more romance-then-romp construction.
All of this was virtually begging for movie to accompany it and fill out its vagueness — with a uniformity of fashion, texture and coloration that made the items virtually interchangeable manifestations of Bell’s heat, genially bland enjoying.
And Edgar Meyer’s tame “Water,” with its undulating winds and trickles of violin, was actually no match for what had been occurring outdoors.