Following an underwhelming concert last Thursday, I was beginning to think I was getting too cynical for concertgoing.
The concert in question, featuring high-profile pianist Yuja Wang and conductor Jaap van Zweden with the New York Philharmonic, was in many respects not bad but just not good enough. Wang played a nearly note-perfect Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, but fell short in conveying the work's edgy and mercurial touches and rhythmic incision. I was in fact more impressed by the Philharmonic, which seemed more engaged than the soloist. Following the intermission came one of the most uneven performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 that I've heard in some time. Zweden seemed to catch much of the spirit of the third movement, but his badly-calculated tempos ? often at direct odds with the detailed and explicit instructions in Mahler's score ? sucked much of the drama and mood out of the outer movements.
Thankfully, the following night brought one of the most enjoyable evenings of the year. Lost Dog New Music Ensemble and guest hornist Nathan Koci presented a program cheekily titled "Call to Hounds." Berio's Sequenza XIV for cello solo, written late in his career (2002), was the first such call, played with color and panache by the ensemble's terrific cellist Emily Brausa. The Berio was followed by a work written two decades earlier, the Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano by Hungarian master Gy???rgy Ligeti, with pianist Laura Barger and violinist Miranda Cuckson joining Koci in an exuberant, startling performance that had me thinking, for some reason, of Beckett and Ionescu conversing, or sometimes locking horn (pardon the pun).
Following the intermission came what may have been the American premiere of English composer Robert Simpson's terrific, Nielsenesque Horn Quartet, an edifying work in two movements written in 1976 but sounding like a work from a half century earlier. This was big scale music with warm tunes aplenty and some rigorous tutti passages at the culmination of the second movement variations, played impressively by a first-rate ensemble that deserves a larger audience. The venue was the gallery at the Tenri Cultural Center in the West Village, and the sonics were terrific ? and the music put out of mind the gallery's current installation of creepy, mutated photographic portraits of women.