MUSIC REVIEW; Musicians Who Trust Composers Under 30

MUSIC REVIEW; Musicians Who Trust Composers Under 30

Since 1984 the adventurous New York Youth Symphony has presented a premiere performance of a new work by a composer under 30 on every one of its programs. This means that an orchestra of students ranging in age from 12 to 22 has arguably the best record for commissioning new music of any ensemble in the United States.

But it means something more, as this orchestra's players discovered again on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall in the last Youth Symphony concert of the season, conducted by Mischa Santora. The students repeatedly learn that collaborating with a living composer is as natural a part of being a musician as performing works of the great masters.

The premiere on Sunday was ''No Apologies'' by Stefan Freund, a Tennessee-born composer currently pursuing doctoral studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. As the title of this impish, richly scored eight-minute work indicates, Mr. Freund decided to indulge himself for once, to draw from quite different genres and styles of music, boldly and with no apologies.

It begins with a bustling, harmonically pungent music that swings in a sweeping six-eight meter, though pesky inner rhythms refuse to keep in place. Running through the music are hints, it seemed, of Prokofiev and the Bernstein of the ''Candide'' Overture. When the tuba and trombone begin an extended episode evocative of Dixieland jazz, Mr. Freund's borrowings become too obvious. The last section of the piece corrects this, blending the jazzy elements into his own spiky voice. Mr. Santora and his exuberant players seemed to enjoy themselves immensely.

A performance of Beethoven's ''Emperor'' Concerto offered the pianist John Browning as soloist. Though a fixture on the local concert scene in his earlier years, Mr. Browning, now 67, had not performed in New York since 1995. His playing has lost little of its technical nimbleness.

This was a fleet-fingered, stylish and structurally lucid account of the work. It was not particularly searching, and somewhat reserved dramatically, a problem in a piece called the ''Emperor'' for good reason. Still, Mr. Browning's playing was admirable, and it was fun to experience the excitement of the young musicians onstage, many of whom, no doubt, were playing this repertory staple for the first time. They have yet to learn how to maintain energy at softer dynamics. Young musicians typically find security in overstatement. But they provided a refreshing break from the slick professionalism that major orchestras often bring to such an assignment.

After intermission Mr. Santora conducted an involving performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1, the ''Titan.'' There were rough technical patches in the playing, which was to be expected. But these palpably engaged musicians played with impressive vigor, often poignant expressivity and an apt sense of Mahlerian ebb and flow.

The dynamic Mr. Santora, who begins his fifth and final season with the Youth Symphony in December, is unlikely ever to conduct a more enthusiastic ensemble. How often do you hear orchestra musicians whoop with excitement as they leave the stage after a successful concert?


Publication Information

May 23, 2001
The New York Times
Anthony Tommasini

Related Concert