Players Not Yet Mature, Sounding Old and Young

Players Not Yet Mature, Sounding Old and Young

It is always a question whether the talented young should be turned into little adults, wise before their time, or allowed to dawdle a while and just be children. The New York Youth Symphony, whose members range in age from 12 to 22, sounded both old and young at Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon. In the right music its strings sections are startlingly beautiful, with a sheen and trueness a lot of grown-up orchestras would envy. Brass and winds showed a simpler kind of enthusiasm and forwardness.

Intermission served as a dividing line. Before it came Dan Visconti’s “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine” and a three-way hybrid called “Matthew Says.” The first provides a cheerful and colorful assault on the senses. The Symphony Singers, directed by Evan Wels, create crowd-scene yells and murmurs set against swooping instrumental glissandos.

The music turns to an older-style choir music before single-file parades of musicians take to the aisles and generate over-the-top loudness. A quiet wisp of phrase ends the piece. I’m never quite sure what postmodern means, especially in music, but if it is the appropriation of this and that, regardless of historical continuity, the word describes Mr. Visconti’s vivid if hardly subtle music.

In “Matthew Says” the orchestra’s departing music director, Paul Haas, has strung together bits of Bach and Telemann and added his own thoughts on the passion of St. Matthew as well. The Telemann segments are lovely, the work of a master musician. Mr. Haas’s cloudy, ambiguous and slow-moving arrangements are very nice as well. But neither comes close to the devastating concision of Bach’s chorale harmonizations, whose harmonies about harmonies about other harmonies moved Anton Webern to call them the first 12-tone music.

Mr. Haas likes space and light in his performances. Here the stage was semi-lighted, with the chorus — beautifully trained and tuned, by the way — joining wind ensembles and emanating from different parts of the hall.

The other piece, after intermission, was Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. The talented Mr. Haas seemed to revel, as any young conductor would, in a chance to do a big piece with a big orchestra. I admit to having heard a quartet of 20-ish young women play late Beethovenwith considerable depth recently, but expecting Mahlerian world-weariness from near-children did them no great favor. These young people worked hard and honorably, albeit at music beyond the capacities of both their hearts and bodies.

Publication Information

May 29, 2007
The New York Times

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