NEW YORK CITY – The Nashville Symphony Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall on Saturday night, and the hometown crowd was waiting for them.
More than 500 Nashvillians traveled to New York over the weekend to catch the NSO’s Carnegie concert. As the musicians filed onstage just before the performance, the orchestra’s Nashville fans leapt to their feet and cheered. Green scarves had been handed out to the locals earlier in the day, and these were waved with sincere affection as music director Giancarlo Guerrero made his way to the podium.
Saturday’s concert was part of the second annual Spring for Music festival, which invites regional orchestras from across North America to compete for the chance to play at Carnegie Hall. Six orchestras are selected for — among other things — the adventurousness of their programs. Nashville’s strikingly original offerings obviously made a strong impression on festival organizers, since the NSO won the series’ coveted closing-night slot.
Certainly, it doesn’t get any more venturous than Charles Ives’ Universe Symphony, the work that opened the concert. This monumental piece is intended evoke the formation of the heavens and the earth. Ives spent nearly 40 years working on this symphony, leaving it unfinished at his death in 1954. The NSO performed a realization of the piece that was completed by composer Larry Austin in 1994.
Austin’s arrangement calls for a huge orchestra that is divided into seven groups led by five conductors. The groups all play in different keys and meters, and Austin created a sophisticated computerized click-track system to keep everything together.
On Saturday, Guerrero mounted the podium, placed headphones on his ears and pressed a key on his laptop to start the click tracks. In an instant, a universe was born. It started with the “Life Pulse Prelude,” a section of daunting rhythmic complexity scored for 20 percussionists, piano and piccolo. All the musicians played shifting cycles of music that went in and out of sync every eight seconds. As this music slowly increased in intensity, one could easily image a stew of cosmic particles coming to a boil.
After about 16 minutes of percolating percussion, the four so-called heavens orchestras (consisting primarily of strings and winds) joined the fray, adding a shimmering luminosity to the mix. One sensed that the stars were igniting their nuclear fuel, lighting the universe. Soon, the two earth orchestra (brass and low winds) also began to play. Guerrero’s four assistant conductors — Austin, NSO associate conductor Kelly Corcoran, NSO resident conductor Albert-George Schram, and Belmont University professor Christopher Norton — kept all of these groups playing in beautiful synchronicity.
The Universe Symphony may well have been the most dissonant and abstract piece played at this year’s Spring for Music festival. The NSO, to its credit, performed this music with remarkable precision, which brought out the work’s sparkling ambience. For its effort, the orchestra won a deserved ovation.
The NSO presented two other strikingly original works at Carnegie Hall: Terry Riley’s The Palmian Chord Ryddle for Electric Violin and Orchestra and Percy Grainger’s The Warriors: Music to an Imaginary Ballet. Both works were performed earlier this month at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Interestingly, both received vastly superior performances at Carnegie Hall.
There seemed to be two main reasons for the improvement in the Riley concerto. First, the NSO and its soloist, electric violinist Tracy Silverman, have obviously had time to polish this piece. Sections that seemed to meander in Nashville flowed beautifully in New York.
Silverman in particular seemed more comfortable and relaxed. He stood mostly inert during his Nashville performance, but in New York he moved more freely on stage, occasionally exchanging riffs with concertmaster Jun Iwasaki and other members of the orchestra. His sound was also more bright, reverberant and expressive. In general, he did a better job showing off the range of this remarkable six-string instrument.
Second, Carnegie Hall’s acoustics brought a lot more clarity to the concerto. Details that were lost in the reverb of the Schermerhorn came through loud and clear at Carnegie. In Nashville, ironically enough, I barely heard the banjo, which plays an important role in the concerto. At Carnegie, I heard every note plucked by banjo player Gyan Riley, the composer’s son. Guerrero, for his part, was an effective accompanist who maintained a beautiful balance throughout the performance.
Percy Grainger’s The Warriors, which closed the program, is basically a tone poem on steroids. The piece calls for a massive orchestra requiring, in places, three conductors (Guerrero received able assistance from Corcoran and Norton). In Nashville, this piece mostly seemed loud, with the huge complement of strings, winds, brass, three pianos, two harps, celesta and percussion simulating a sonic boom. Again, there was more clarity and balance in New York, which resulted in a performance that was more musical.
The audience loved every note, and they called Guerrero back for an encore. The conductor, who had just made his belated and extraordinarily successful Carnegie Hall debut, obliged with music from Roberto Sierra’s Symphony No. 4.
This is exactly why we have juries.
No, justice was not served. Had she been executed swiftly, justice would have been served…
Naw man, it's the court of public opinion that counts. Ask George Zimmerman about that,…
@Tom Wood: It's doubtful Manning will equal George Blanda's longevity. Blanda was even a pretty…
And furthermore, we don't try cases based on what the news reports. We try them…