Maestro Gilbert led members of the orchestra in three world premieres, by Sean Shepherd, Nico Muhly and Matthias Pintscher. Of the three, Pintscher's songs from solomon's garden made the strongest impression, with Thomas Hampson as the baritone soloist. Pintscher called the texts some of the most "beautiful love poetry ever written," and Hampson, singing the texts in Hebrew, bore this out with some deliciously fluid singing. And as in his other works (e.g., his Five Orchestral Pieces from 1997), Pintscher has a keen ear for arresting orchestral colors. Afterward, I recalled last fall's opening night at the Philharmonic, when Renée Fleming sang some seldom-done Messiaen. It is heartening to hear world-class artists give care, passion and artistry to unfamiliar pieces.
The host for the evening was WNYC's John Schaefer, always comfortable onstage eliciting offbeat comments from composers. In a humorous introduction, Shepherd explained that his title, These Particular Circumstances, came to him when he was observing the untitled piece in rehearsal. It is an accomplished effort in seven sections: “floating, circling, spinning, grinding, sinking, teetering, soaring," and combines some ferocious gestures with musical quotations (including an amusing one from Holst's The Planets).
Muhly's Detailed Instructions is in three movements, with a slightly unusual orchestration (no violins), and he also got some laughs with his easygoing preface. The first movement has a sweetly pulsating texture, the middle sounds slightly Copland-esque, and the last clearly nods to Philip Glass. The ovations for the two were long and loud, and again, a concert like this is exactly the kind of risk-taking in which the Philharmonic should be engaged. To judge from the audience response, the risk is paying off, bigtime.
Update: for more writers' comments, see the Q2 blog post, here.