Glass and Rachmaninoff, With Percussion to Spare

Members of the New York Youth Symphony in concert Sunday. Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Glass and Rachmaninoff, With Percussion to Spare

by Allan Kozinn

The New York Youth Symphony closed its 45th season with what looked like a monster of a program at Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon. Ryan McAdams, completing his first season as music director, devoted the first half of the program to a pair of contemporary percussion concertos by Lembit Beecher and Philip Glass, though only Mr. Glass called his piece a concerto explicitly. After intermission Mr. McAdams led his large ensemble of young instrumentalists (ages 12 to 22) in Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, a huge, broad-boned work full of structural pitfalls that must be overcome if the music is to sound coherent.

As it turned out, the contemporary works put fewer demands on the orchestra than you might expect, and that may have bought some extra rehearsal time for the Rachmaninoff. Mr. Beecher’s “Faded, Manic, Black and White” (2007), commissioned by the orchestra, had it create an ambient haze at first, within which the soloist, James Deitz moved around a small arsenal of percussion instruments, augmented by the orchestra’s percussionists, whose contributions were often as prominent. Eventually a thwack on a bass drum broke the orchestra’s stasis, and Mr. Beecher gradually increased the complexity of the orchestral rhythms and textures. Still, it was Mr. Deitz’s solo line that held the attention.

That was doubly so (if not more) in Mr. Glass’s Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists (2000), if only because the persistent thunder of two percussionists rolling their mallets across eight timpani drowned out the orchestra most of the time. Not that it mattered greatly: Mr. Glass gave the strings attractive, mostly scalelike themes, but they were repeated often enough that you could catch them unimpeded between the soloists’ barrages. In any case, they paled in interest beside the interplay of the two timpani lines, played deftly by Mr. Deitz and Svet Stoyanov.

The orchestra gave a respectable performance of the Rachmaninoff. A warm sound and a shapely approach to Rachmaninoff’s singing themes go a long way here, and Mr. McAdams and his players gave those qualities a high priority. Mr. McAdams’s balletic conducting, with its sweeping gestures and careful, alert cueing, gave the impression that he knew what he wanted to do with this hefty work, and the orchestra seemed to give him what he asked for. So if the sprawling first movement never fully jelled, it was hard not to admire the beautifully inflected violin lines and the fully unified woodwind and brass playing. And the orchestra scored points for the unbridled vigor it brought to the finale.

Publication Information

May 27, 2008
The New York Times