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The new season at Lincoln Center of the excellent Juilliard Orchestra opened auspiciously on the evening of Tuesday, September 5th, at the splendid Alice Tully Hall, with a program where its members played alongside excellent musicians from the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra of Helsinki, under the expert direction of the renowned Esa-Pekka Salonen, in the last of three collaborative concerts with the two ensembles in celebration of the centennial of Finnish independence.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Lincoln Center
The first program, entitled "The Singing Heart", in this year's Mostly Mozart Festival—which I attended on the evening of Wednesday, July 26th, at David Geffen Hall and which featured the house orchestra confidently conducted by the enthusiastic music director, Louis Langrée—proved to be an unusually memorable one.
A glorious season of orchestral music at Carnegie Hall finished this month with three superb concerts featuring the excellent MET Orchestra under the inspired direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen, with each program devoted in part to a Gustav Mahler song cycle. The first performance, presented on the evening of Wednesday, May 31st, opened with selections from Mahler's sensuous Des Knaben Wunderhorn sung by two outstanding artists, renowned mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and the fine tenor Matthew Polenzani. Both singers unexpectedly sounded slightly underpowered but the orchestral playing was crystalline. The second half of the program was more impressive with probably the most extraordinary account I have heard in the concert hall of the same composer's frequently performed, magnificent Symphony No. 1, the apotheosis of all three programs.
The next concert—given on the afternoon of Saturday, June 3rd—merited comparable esteem, opening with a sterling reading of Robert Schumann's beautiful Symphony No. 3, the "Rhenish", a work surprisingly not much heard on New York stages lately. The latter half of the program surpassed the first with a stunning version of Mahler's sublime Das Lied von der Erde, showcasing two thrilling singers—the lovely mezzo-soprano, Karen Cargill, and the dynamic tenor, Stuart Skelton—both exquisitely accompanied by the ensemble in another pellucid realization.
The final program—which took place on the evening of the following Tuesday—also satisfied, beginning with an elegant account of Mahler's seldom performed, posthumously published, but gorgeous Blumine. Celebrated virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff then took the stage for a rewarding performance of the wonderful Violin Concerto of Jean Sibelius, a composer with whom the conductor has had a privileged relationship. Vigorous applause earned the audience an enjoyable encore from the soloist: the challenging Presto from the Solo Violin Sonata, BB 124, of Béla Bartók.
The second half of the concert started with the moving Mahler Kindertotenlieder, appealingly sung by the popular mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter, who nonetheless seemed slightly underpowered. The event closed strongly with a compelling rendition of the idiosyncratic, mysterious Sibelius Symphony No. 7. One looks forward enormously to hearing these distinguished musicians again next season.
(L to R) Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Esperanza Spalding
When the Apollo Theater had announced that it would be holding the next Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival recently, it almost seem too good an idea to be believed.
In its all too-short a time — from Friday, May 4th, to Sunday, May 7th — it provided everything from the WOW Teen Summit featuring a talk by Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe to a day of free panels, workshops, and performances celebrating empowerment and activism. Yet that’s what it did — offering a range of activities that brought together disparate age groups and communities in Harlem to celebrate its community of women.
In doing so, it served a set of needs that haven’t been so fulfilled before, rich in creativity and solid in enthusiasm. But of all the events presented at The Apollo during the Southbank Centre’s WOW Fest, the Abbey Lincoln Tribute held Saturday night was one of the most memorable music performances heard and seen in that august and history-rich performance hall. In a far too-brisk two hours or so, premiere jazz vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding covered the catalogue of this innovative singer and songwriter. Under the musical direction of noted drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, the evening provided an incredible forum to hear some the finest female voices on any stage, a recollection of a singer/songwriter/actress who shouldn’t be forgotten and a reminder of how she had merge art and activism to fashion an incredibly full life in her 80 years.
By stepping into the Apollo last Saturday to hear the Abbey Lincoln tribute, the audience was transported into a world of fierce and unrelenting passion and aural art. The seamless bonding of these three performers — Bridgewater, Reeves and Spalding — made for a momentous event.
This trio both celebrated and re-energized the songs of a legendary singer who had transformed classic jazz vocals into something richer both of her time and yet timeless. Lincoln had a way to restructuring the framework of jazz tunes to pivot between classic song structures and an avant gardism at the same time.
While Bridgewater was the big gospel-fied power vocalist, Reeves shaded her renditions of Lincoln’s songs with a mellifluous flow up and down the scales, a testing of range and tonality. Spalding offered the alluring sexuality of a singer reminiscent of Billy Holiday’s own sultriness.
That evening made this remarkable weekend all the more remarkable and historic. It will be far too long to wait another year for the next WOW fest. A hurrah for WOW.
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