Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Martin Fröst Plays the Lincoln Center

It’s not every day that you get to meet one of the best clarinetists in the world, but last weekend I got to do just that.

On Sunday, I went to see Martin Fröst play a solo concert with pianist Shai Wosner at the Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. Martin Fröst is a clarinet superstar from Sweden. I had been looking forward to this concert for weeks. He launched the presentation with an amazing performance of Premiére Rapsodie by Debussy. I loved his movement while he was playing; it was like he was dancing.

Next, he played a sonata by Poulenc with such wonderful phrasing, it was like he was singing. He seemed so excited while he played, that it was fun just to watch him.

The next piece really captured the day. Fröst played the Theme with Variations by Françaix with unbelievable grace. The pianissimo notes were so astonishing that they could be heard throughout the hall. The expression of his body movement was so interwoven with the music; it was like he became the melody.

After the Françaix, the clarinet virtuoso executed the Brahms Sonata in E-flat major, No. 2 even more impressively than the piece before. His phrases were superb and his tone was just marvelous, like a flowing river. He just throws himself in the music, making every note gorgeous. He persuaded me that there was for that hour nothing else in the world besides his enthralling playing. Martin Frost has his own ostentatious style which no one could ever replicate.

Finally, he received such an ovation that he ended the morning with an encore. He played an animated klezmer-like piece called Csárdás from his album Frost and Friends which woke us up from his lulling, beautiful Brahms. He jumped right into it, and played all the technical parts with such enthusiasm. As the piece became more exciting, he played with even more eagerness. It was a grand ending and he pulled it off with virtuosity almost unknown to the clarinet.

There was a coffee reception after the concert where everyone got to meet Martin Fröst and Shai Wosner. Martin Fröst’s agent had given me and my mom his comp tickets when we found the concert had sold out, so we had to thank him, and I really wanted to meet him. I was really nervous while I was in line to meet him. When it was our turn to talk to him, I was so nervous that I couldn’t speak coherently. My mom and I thanked him for the tickets, and my mom asked him if she could take a picture of me and Martin Fröst. He said yes and my mom took a picture. She said that I looked terrified, and Martin Fröst was so nice that he said, “I looked terrified too, take another one.”

It was a spectacular performance and I hope I can watch him play his clarinet again soon even if he is Swedish and not Norwegian.  (The Bakkes come from Norway.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Seeing the New York Philharmonic

I'm from Chicago.  I know what a world class orchestra sounds like, because we have one right here, conducted by Maestro Muti, when he gets back from Italy that is.

I was excited to see the New York Philharmonic.  I went to a concert they gave at the Lincoln Center on Saturday.  The program was Beethoven's 2nd Symphony in D Major and Twelve Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn by Mahler. 

I wanted to see how the famous New York Philharmonic compared with my hometown Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Unfortunately, I couldn't really hear the New York Philharmonic, and I could really see them either.  The hall they performed in was Avery Fisher Hall.  First, I noticed that couldn't see anything, in spite of having reasonably close seats in the first tier.  The angle of view to the stage was blocked by big black metal railings.  Also, you couldn't really hear the low voices very well. 

The acoustics problem was a big issue in the second piece.  The Mahler piece was a collection of songs sunch by two singers.  The soprano, Dorothea Roschmann, I could hear.  She sang quite nicely.  The Tenor, Ian Bostridge, I couldn't really hear!  I could hear his high notes, but not his low notes.

When I got home, I did some research on Avery Fischer Hall.  It turns out that the Hall does have acoustical problems.  It wasn't Mr. Bostridge's fault that I couldn't hear him.  The Hall was made too big, and the acoustics for the low voices aren't very good.

Also, the hall was ugly.  It was all brown.  The seats were brown.  The stage was brown.  The walls were brown.  It was like watching a concert in a big brown box.  On the walls, a bunch of brightly lit exit signs were glaring.  It was unpleasant.

When the Mahler was going on, they had a projector flashing a translation of the german up.  It was hard to concentrate on the orchestra, because the words were always distracting you.

On a postive note, I really liked principal clarinetist, Mark Nuccio, who had a lot of solos in the Mahler.  The horns stood out too, especially in the Beethoven.

Another problem was the audience.  At the end of the performance, while we were applauding, about one fourth of them got up and left.  How could they do that?!  The performers were trying to come back for their ovations, but it was awkward with all the people leaving at the same time.  I'm glad Chicago audiences don't act like that!

I would like to see the New York Philharmonic play in Carnegie Hall or the Chicago Symphony Center so I can actually hear them perform.  I'm sure they're great.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Risor Chamber Music Festival at Carnegie Hall

On Friday, I went to see Martin Frost in the Risor Chamber Music Festival at Carnegie Hall. The Risor Chamber Music Festival is yearly chamber music festival in Risor, Norway.

First, they opened with a string sextet by Richard Strauss. They played very beautifully. I really liked expression of the cellist, Audun Andre Sandvik. His playing throughout the evening was really memorable.

Next, there was an amazing performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in Eb Major by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. I loved how he conducted the orchestra as he played, just like Uchida does. There was only one problem with this setup: I could only see the pianist from the back from where I was. I couldn’t see his fingers and his face while he was playing. Still, it was a sensational performance. Also, in the performance, the principal first violin, second violin, and viola played a trio together separate from the piano. It was like a piece within a piece, and they communicated so well, it was almost like they were one person.

The last piece before intermission was Gustav Mahler’s Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen, starring Measha Brueggergosman, a leading soprano. She was accompanied by an odd group of two violins, a viola, a cello, a bass, a flute, a clarinet, a piano, a harmonium, and a percussion player. It was a stunning execution of this collection of songs. Brueggergosman was very inspiring. Whenever I tried to watch Martin Frost, who was my whole reason for being in New York that weekend, she irresistibly drew my attention back to her. I felt like she was singing to me personally. She was amazing!

After intermission, Martin Frost played Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. His first, flabbergasting pianissimo blew your mind away. It was so quiet but he still got a beautiful tone and his sound filled the entire hall. His physical movement during the first section, slowly and expressively, was very interesting. It was like he was dancing, as he played. He had his own ideas about how to move while playing the clarinet that aren’t quite like anyone elses. He played the cadenza that linked the two movements marvelously, executing all the difficult turns and twists perfectly. In the last movement, rather fast, Frost became very excited, and the expression of his body became even more thrilling. I loved how he played with the cellos and basses. I enjoyed this last movement even more than the first one.

For an encore, Martin Frost played a klezmer piece called Lets Be Happy for an encore. He said it was his own brand of Scandinavian klezmer, because it was arranged by his little brother. He got so animated during this piece that I think he liked it better than the Copland. It was a fun piece with a lot of fast parts and I think he played it better here than at any other part of the concert.

They ended the night with an incredible performance of Béla Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings. I especially liked the violas and cellos. The lower sections of the Risor Festival Strings really stood out. All around, it was a great performance.