Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic dazzle Vail Audience with Martinů

Last Night Alan Gilbert led the New York Philharmonic in their second night at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival with the intense music of Bohuslav Martinů’s Symphony No. 4. Written in 1945, the music captures the passion of the war effort with the hopes of an eventual end (Martinů started writing soon after the allied offensive was pushing deep into Germany). Eloquently capturing the dramatic builds, soothing melodies and a vast array of sonic-scapes, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic earned their place as the final orchestra for the festival – in the “clean up” position.

Typically, after a month of music festivities, musicians and audience get tired. Fortunately, the Bravo! Festival opts to change the orchestra to keep the musicians (and the music) fresh. This was the second night for the musicians from New York and they sounded fresh and alive as they tackled a program of Brahms and Martinů. Although there were probably numerous members in the audience who had seen both the Dallas Symphony and the Philadelphia Symphony, you couldn’t tell it from their appreciation of the music.

Nikolaj Znaider joined the orchestra on Violin for the first half with Brahm’s Violin Concerto in D Major. It starts with a sumptuous beginning, allowing Mr Gilbert to drift through the various elements of the orchestra eventually building to entrance of the soloist. This is Mr Znaider’s show piece, and the opening movement shows why. His ability to shift between dramatic double stops to the softer melodic sections was incredible. Unfortunately, some of the softer sections of his solo work were lost, not quite reaching to the back of the house.

In the second movement, oboeist Liang Wang got a chance to shine. Brahms' opens with a beautiful oboe solo with woodwind and horn accompaniment was lush and rich. Again, the music soars, leading into the solo violin. Znaider captured the lyric quality of the second moment magnificently.

The final movement is a frolicking dance. Here Znaider had the chance to show off his technical skill and speed. Regrettably, these rapid passages often were lost, so while they “looked” amazing, they were occasionally too soft to be truly appreciated. The audience gave Nikolaj Znaider and the New York Philharmonic a standing ovation, but if it weren’t for the center section of the audience (who obviously heard a better balance than I did) there would not have been a call back to the stage. This is unfortunate, as both the soloist and orchestra are much better than this piece demonstrated.

Fortunately, Martinů’s Symphony No. 4 did not have the same difficulties. Starting with a series of sonic-scapes, Mr Gilbert glided through the various elements of the orchestra, building the piece to a frantic energy. Then, as precise as clockwork, the music (and orchestra) shifted to a softer section. At one point, one of these shifts caused a gasp from the audience. It couldn’t have been done better.

The Martinů piece is thoroughly modern, and yet still captures a sense of melody. Mr Gilbert was able to bring out all the dense sounds, rich contours, complex colors, fluid orchestration, multifaceted rhythms and sensuous emotions – allowing each one space to be heard and yet, buried within the whole to create something greater. In the end, the intensity was not only heard, but felt by the audience. The dramatic close was a fitting climax to a piece written at the end of World War II – and a great cap to the New York Philharmonic’s second night here in Vail.

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