Those Amazing Juilliard Students


By Sedgwick Clark

So it’s time for my annual paean to the Juilliard Orchestra. I love to hear these young musicians—their passion, their commitment, their maturity, their technical polish. Last Friday (11/15) they played a varied program of 20th-century works by Adams, Barber, R. Strauss, and Ives. Conductor Jeffrey Milarsky, whose work I had admired previously with Juilliard’s excellent contemporary-music group Axiom, was mighty impressive—surprisingly so in Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils because I didn’t expect such a sinuous performance from a contemporary-music specialist. So much for my preconceptions.

John Adams’s Tromba lontana, a quiet, four-minute fanfare for two trumpets opened the concert. Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Piano Concerto (1962), commissioned for Lincoln Center’s opening week, received a balanced mix of expressiveness and virtuosity by soloist Kevin Ahfat. But is the piece itself worth the effort? Barber biographer Barbara B. Heyman writes, “The Piano Concerto marks the high point in Barber’s career.” Surely that isn’t a qualitative judgment, which it could be of the frequently performed, far superior Violin Concerto (1939). Despite the praiseworthy Juilliard outing last week, it remains an oddly disjunct piece, with solo and orchestral passages alternating disconcertingly as if the composer had not had the time to integrate them. A major performance of the Piano Concerto hasn’t turned up in a New York concert hall since May 1987 with John Browning, the work’s faithful first soloist, Leonard Slatkin, and the St. Louis Symphony at Carnegie Hall. A check with its publisher, G. Schirmer, finds scattered performances at music schools and second- and third-tier orchestras around the U.S. in the past 20 years.


Before the concert resumed, pianist Gilbert Kalish presented Milarsky with the 2013 Alice M. Ditson Conductor’s Award for the advancement of American music. Milarsky’s sexy Salome’s Dance and an ideally paced performance of Charles Ives’s Three Places in New England completed the concert. I look forward to hearing this conductor again. As for hearing the Juilliard Orchestra again, we need only wait until Monday, 11/25, at Alice Tully Hall, when Vladimir Jurowski leads an all-Shostakovich program. See you there.


Rosenkavalier—See It Now


An amusing press release arrived from Chicago Lyric Opera the other day, exclaiming that its new production of La Traviata would be “performed uncut!” Amusing because we in James Levine’s Met Operaland are accustomed to hearing every last note, good or bad. That was brought home last Saturday night as PK and I staggered home from Die Frau ohne Schatten, wishing the third act had been at least 20 minutes shorter. The same act of Der Rosenkavalier has its longeurs too, but Strauss wasn’t mystified by Hofmannsthal’s libretto in this case and produced music of consistently soaring inspiration.


Some friends think Die Frau is Strauss’s best opera. I’ll take Rosenkavalier, myself, for its everlasting humanity, wit, and melodic beauty. For 40 years I’ve reveled in the Met’s consummate 1969 Nathaniel Merrill production, and fondly recall Yvonne Minton’s hilarious “Mariandel” in 1973 and Evelyn Lear’s Marschallin (admittedly long in the tooth for the 30-something character, but affecting) in 1985 at her very last Met performance. The production will be revived on 11/22, with further performances on 11/25, 30mat, 12/3, 7eve, 10, and 13. Judging by the Gelb regime’s systematic retirement of old productions, this may be its last stand. I urge all who love this opera, or don’t know it yet, to see it before it’s too late.


Big Mac’s Old Ploy


McDonald’s had a problem: Teenagers were loitering instead of buying Big Macs, so management blared “operas and classical music” over their speakers. “Absolute genius,” said Diane Sawyer on ABC Nightly News last night, evidently unaware that a 7 Eleven store in British Columbia had pioneered the idea in 1985 and that New York’s Port Authority bus station had been driving the homeless away for years with Mozart and Handel.



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