Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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


December 02, 2011

NY Phil and Daniel Harding: Photo mine
I spent my first 24 hours or so in New York the weekend mostly at Lincoln Center. I wasn’t alone. After seeing The Metropolitan Opera’s spectacular production of Glass’ Satyagraha when it opened, I returned for another viewing. It was a particularly emotional performance and even more intense than I remember. Richard Croft, who sang Gandhi, sounded a little under the weather, but he, like the rest of the cast, were totally invested. Upon leaving the house, I saw the 200 or so people behind a barricade standing along Columbus Avenue outside of the plaza as part of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement. According to numerous other sources, Glass himself and other artists such as Laurie Anderson were there, but I didn’t see any of them as I left. Given that there were more exiting audience members on the plaza than protestors supposedly being kept out of the same area, the whole scene came off as arbitrary and unfocused with people pretty much going where they wanted as a handful of police officers looked on.

The revolution had apparently moved on by the next morning. I had returned to the plaza and Avery Fisher Hall for a performance from the New York Philharmonic led by conductor Daniel Harding. The program consisted of the Deryck Cooke version of Mahler’s 10th Symphony. It’s a piece still met with some raised eyebrows in that Mahler had not completed the work before his death and had requested the sketches and drafts be burnt in the event of his death. But you know Alma. Over the intervening years, a number of folks took a crack at completing the other movements of the symphony besides the well-known Adagio. Cooke’s version from the early 1970s has gotten a fair amount of traction. Its advocates have included Simon Rattle, so given that Rattle’s one-time protégée Harding is leading the work’s first NY Philharmonic performance in 25 years, it seems logical. Harding doesn’t exude the kind of personal charisma from the stage so in demand from conductors his age these days. And he’s not beyond a tepid, overly polished performance as evidenced by his appearances with the Dresden Staatskapelle last year on tour in the U.S.

But Friday’s performance was excellent with Harding tapping into a very Mahlerian sound whether or not the music being performed was unquestionably his. Harding’s biggest strength was giving the work a sense of unity. When he reached the Finale, admittedly a very different point than the opening Adagio, there was a sense of things coming full circle, fading into the distance much as the work creeps up from the distance to begin with. There was excellent and well-managed contrast with Harding eliciting delicate tender playing in the wake of thundering crescendos. The numerous tempo changes sounded like second-nature to Harding and he proved masterful at maintaining tension through pauses particularly in the lead up to the finale. I’ll leave the rest to your own discovery. The show repeats one more time on Saturday night if you’re in town.


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