Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

A Big Room with a View

December 15, 2008

Blurry Barenboim on the Met Opera stage
Photo: mine 2008

Before leaving New York, I did catch the Daniel Barenboim piano recital at the Metropolitan Opera on Sunday night. It was a gigantic and well deserved love-fest for the Maestro. He’s a living legend who's currently in the middle of a few whirlwind weeks in New York conducting a run of Tristan und Isolde to much acclaim. In some ways this concert seems an afterthought, but to consider it so is to underestimate the maestro’s prodigious talents as well as his history as a performer.

The evening was heavily promoted by the company as a Big Event and in a sense it was. The crowd certainly seemed to think so and there was plenty of excitement in the air. Barenboim selected a program very tailored to his surroundings and audience in that it was operatic to its very core. Consisting entirely of works from Franz Liszt, the two halves considered opera both explicitly and implicitly. The second half of the evening included a variety of transcriptions from Verdi operas. These were played with great love for the source material and were clearly enjoyed as much by Barenoim as the audience. Before that, and perhaps less obvious, were a number of pieces from the Années de Pèlerinage inspired by Italian poetry. And while these pieces were not operatic in content, they were certainly so in terms of temperament. Dramatic in a sentimental way without being explicitly narrative, the works allowed Barenboim to play some luscious, romantic music cut from the same Italian cloth as Verdi in its own way. Additionally, he included St François d’Assise: La prédication aux oiseaux from Deux Légendes. This piece reflects on St. Francis's sermon to the birds and fascinatingly predicts some of the very ground Messiaen would cover in the following century to talk about the same subject matter.

The crowd was wildly ecstatic with the performance, which included encores of both Scarlati and Chopin. All of it played with an intensity and depth of feeling that seemed right at home on the stage of such a large hall for a solo piano recital. So, while this may not have been a traditional piano evening in many ways, it was clearly the right show for the right place at the right time.



Barenboim is so often overlooked as a piano recitalist. I'll never forget how he, while conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin a few years ago, surprised our audience by spontaneously playing four-hand piano with James Levine who was hanging around backstage. One could say he has a flair for drama, but I think he likes to ensure his audiences are not bored by making sure he never is.

Jack W.
Celebrity Series of Boston
A very good point. I think that was the best part about the show in that it was a reminder about Barenboim's many musical talents outside of his conducting.
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