When will the New York Philharmonic stop importing all things Los Angeles?
And concerts this week bring more: images of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, projected over the stage of David Geffen Hall. It’s getting ridiculous.
Not that you would recognize Disney Hall in this form. The images of the building have been abstracted as part of the film accompaniment to Thomas Adès’s 2008 piano concerto “In Seven Days,” which the (New York) Philharmonic is performing with the pianist Kirill Gerstein under the baton of Ruth Reinhardt, in her debut with the orchestra.
Adès’s music here, some of the best and most moving he has written, was conceived alongside Tal Rosner’s video. The half-hour piece is described by its creators as a “concerto for piano with moving image,” drawing on footage of Disney Hall and the Royal Festival Hall in London, the two spaces for which it was commissioned.
Some of the film is lovely; I like the evocation of a shadowy, glinting jungle, and shifting, expanding geometric shapes conjure the jazzy, mid-20th-century look of Saul Bass’s movie title sequences. But on Thursday the endless kaleidoscope fractals mostly felt like a busy albatross around the score’s neck.
And what a score. This is Adès at his most confident, elemental and ingenious. Brilliantly, the chaos of genesis at the start is not immediately chaotic, but rather an assertive, spiky motif with the slightest off-kilter dip to the rhythm, like something trying to catch its breath, to gather itself. The darkness of the universe is a brooding, gorgeous aria; the creation of the stars, a superhigh undulation amid glassiness, scattered through the piano and orchestra.
Grim density flows into shining expanses, but this composer’s changeability and the creativity of his instrumental combinations keep it from ever sounding saccharine or sodden. Gerstein, who has played the piece many times, calmly negotiated its furious runs, granitic chords and tender wandering. For an encore, he gave Adès’s arrangement of the lonesome Berceuse from his opera “The Exterminating Angel.”
The concerto offers a tantalizing impression of organic development and proliferation. That same quality was present — if in a quite different, more formally minimal vein — on Monday at Geffen’s new, intimate Sidewalk Studio in Julius Eastman’s “Femenine,” a piece from the mid-1970s that has been central to this composer’s posthumous rediscovery.
Small cells of material — including annunciatory themes as compelling as Adès’s — repeat (and repeat and repeat) and slowly evolve through the 70-minute work, over the ceaseless wintry shake of sleigh bells. The performers on Monday, a group drawn from the Talea Ensemble and the Harlem Chamber Players, juxtaposed, as Eastman intended, rhythmic alertness and regularity with woozy, oozing, shaggy sprawl.
The Philharmonic can certainly play the Adès concerto, but its textures were not as clear or vivid on Thursday as they can be: the darknesses not as brutal nor the transparencies as shimmering. Grazyna Bacewicz’s motoric Overture for Orchestra, which opened the program, felt thick, too.
After intermission, Dvorak’s Fifth Symphony was sometimes overly forceful. Reinhardt gave welcome prominence to the winds, but this orchestra doesn’t tend to dance gracefully, which made the internal movements heavy. By the Finale, though, more drama was made out of contrasting dynamics, with a candied, fairy-tale character to both the wistfulness and the high spirits.
At the start of the concert, Reinhardt told the audience that the Philharmonic wanted to respond to the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria, a lovely idea. But that response turned out to be an awkwardly played rendition of a cliché: the second movement of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, best known as the “Air on the G String.”
Couldn’t the ensemble have simply dedicated the whole concert — or at least Adès’s concerto, a musical depiction of the wonders and terrors of nature — to those affected?
New York Philharmonic
This program is repeated through Saturday at David Geffen Hall, Manhattan; nyphil.org.