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New York City Ballet's Winter Season Off to a Splendid Start

altThe winter season of New York City Ballet opened splendidly on Tuesday evening, January 18th, 2011, with an extraordinary program devoted to the great George Balanchine.

The first work presented was the glorious Balanchine masterpiece, the Walpurgisnacht Ballet, set to the wondrously ballet music from Charles Gounod's opera, Faust. What the corps lacked in discipline, they compensated for in dynamism -- indeed, the entire company seemed to radiate an exceptional degree of energy throughout the evening.

Of the featured dancers, the most impressive in Walpurgisnacht was the fine principal, Wendy Whelan, who performed with her customary and admirable precision -- despite one stumble -- even if her dancing here may have fallen short of the sublime.

If Walpurgisnacht instantiates the retrospectively classicist half of Balanchine's genius, the next work on the program, the Duo Concertant, set to an appealing chamber score by Igor Stravinsky, represents the prospective modernism of the master.

The lithe Sterling Hyltin, one of the stronger female principals in the company, achieved some thrilling moments. Her partner, Robert Fairchild, looking noticeably thinner after what seemed a long absence, exceeded all expectations with his sensational solo in the penultimate movement.

The mesmerizing Valse-Fantasie, set to delightful music by Mikhail Glinka, is another apotheosis of classical ballet. The charming Ashley Bouder was at her best here; Andrew Veyette, her partner, occasionally dazzled with his characteristic athleticism.

Balanchine's masterful, The Four Temperaments (set to one of Paul Hindemith's strongest scores), one of the choreographer's most inventive and innovative works, closed the program magnificently. If the arresting ensemble work of the corps de ballet often outshone the featured dancers in this piece, Ask la Cour nonetheless surpassed himself in the third variation while principal dancer Teresa Reichlen's technical accomplishment was typically impressive in the fourth.

New York City Ballet
January 18, 2011
David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023

Christmas Eve Tradition Continues At Carnegie Hall

On December 24th, 2010Carnegie Hall continued a more than 40-year-old tradition by presenting the New York String Orchestra (young musicians in training) on Christmas Eve.  Performing under the able direction of Jaime Laredo, this first of two holiday concerts at Carnegie Hall, although not quite up to the level of recent concerts by, say, the Juilliard Orchestra or the Mannes Orchestra, was an enjoyable, short program, lasting about an hour, with no intermission.

It opened with a charming account of Mozart's sparkling, perennially popular Overture to his operatic masterpiece, Cosi fan tutte.

The celebrated soloists, Jennifer Koh and Benjamin Hochman, took the stage to perform Felix Mendelssohn's appealing if slight Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Strings in D Minor, written when the composer was fourteen. The likable rendition here held its own against that of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk heard in New York last summer.

Mozart's magnificent "Paris" Symphony provided a compelling, if unexceptionable, close to this buoyant evening.

New York String Orchestra
December 24, 2010
Carnegie Hall
881 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10019

This Season's Final Performance of The Nutcracker

The NutcrackerOn the evening of Sunday, January 2nd, 2011, New York City Ballet presented the last performance of the season of their annual presentation of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker.

The orchestra, under the baton of Clotilde Otranto, sounded especially fine. Balanchine's choreography here doesn't approach his greatest works until the gorgeous Waltz of the Snowflakes at the end of the first Act; the second Act, which contains the greater portion of the score's best music, is quintessential Balanchine throughout.

I would have liked more discipline from the corps de ballet but the dancing of several of the strongest principals in the company raised this performance above average. Megan Fairchild as the Sugarplum Fairy was at her near best in her Dance of the same name.

Her pas de deux with the often superb Joaquin De Luz as her cavalier was more uncertain, partly as the foreseeable consequence of De Luz's shorter stature; however, they both excelled in the ensuing solo variations, especially de Luz whose athleticism was notably admirable here.

Teresa Reichlen as Coffee in the Arabian Dance was quite good while Daniel Ulbricht -- another short dancer with athletic gifts -- showed off splendidly, if inconsistently, in the Russian Dance and the Finale. The highlight of the evening, however, was the lovely Sara Mearns, exquisite as Dewdrop in the magnificent Waltz of the Flowers.

The Nutcracker
New York City Ballet
January 2, 2011
David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023

New York Philharmonic delivers Dec. 30 concert

Alan GilbertOn December 30th, 2010, the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Alan Gilbert, presented what proved to be an utterly delightful program, revised due to the recent snowstorm, substituting a few familiar classics for some modern works originally scheduled.

The concert opened with a thrilling rendition of the exciting Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, played here with a superb control of orchestral dynamics.
A luminous account of the lovely Valse Triste by Jean Sibelius followed -- in recent memory surpassed for me in intensity only by the performance of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Paavo Järvi, at last summer's Mostly Mozart Festival. The ravishing selections from Tchaikovsky's gorgeous score to The Nutcracker ballet which concluded the first half of the program were irresistible and typified the ability of this outstanding ensemble to enliven even the most commonly played of works.
After intermission, four excellent Philharmonic players took the stage to act as soloists accompanied by a considerably scaled down version of the orchestra in a riveting, crystalline version of Antonio Vivaldi's magnificent Concerto in B minor for Four Violins from the great L'estro armonico collection.
A measured, lovely reading followed of Claude Debussy's early, revolutionary masterwork, the often-played but still stunning Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, memorably performed here, even if not the strongest version heard in New York in the past year or two.
The concert closed with an astonishing account of Ravel's arresting Boléro -- the most compelling performance of this unusual work I have yet encountered, with Gilbert and the ensemble displaying, again, a masterful command of orchestral dynamics, concluding one of the most enjoyable evenings of music this season.
New York Philharmonic
December 30, 2010
Avery Fisher Hall
10 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023

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