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The editor in New York: week one

Ariane Todes visits some iconic New York venues

Monday, 14 May 2012

It’s already the end of my first week here in New York, and I’m settling in nicely, working out the difference between uptown and downtown, and learning that asking for ‘warder’ rather than ‘water’ saves a lot of time.

Back in the office in London, whenever I read our New York concert reviews, I always think dreamily about the venues, wishing I could visit them. This week I got to two – the 92nd Street Y and Carnegie Hall (for which I didn’t even have to practise, practise).

It’s hard to think of two more extreme concerts. On Thursday I heard Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin performing an all-Beethoven programme at the Y. This included sonatas op.5 no.1 and op.69, nicely showing how far the composer travelled in his conceptions both of chamber music and of the cello over the course of his career.

It was a real treat to hear these played with fortepiano – Levin used a model of a c.1805 instrument – revealing the original sound world and a whole level of detail that often gets lost in the resonance when played with piano. Suddenly, everything is about lines and shapes rather than sound and projection. Isserlis and Levin certainly revelled in the details and the interplay of the lines, projecting the pure joy that Isserlis says he feels in performing Beethoven. By way of encore he introduced his transcription of an early Beethoven mandolin work, which deserves more attention from players.

Where every detail could be heard in this concert, in the first half of Saturday’s Spring for Music festival concert at Carnegie Hall, I knew there was plenty of detail in the score, I just couldn’t necessarily hear it all. Ives’s unfinished Universe Symphony calls for five different orchestras and conductors often doing different things at the same time in a variety of tempos. It’s a huge, challenging work, with myriad things to concentrate on at any time, all of which meld into one great and evolving whole. This cacophony was pulled off impressively by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under conductor Giancarlo Guerrero.

In the second half violinist Tracy Silverman introduced Terry Riley’s new violin work, The Palmian Chord Ryddle, on his six-string electric violin. With its sweeping melodic lines, contrasting sections and ample opportunities for virtuosity – all of which Silverman pulled off with total commitment and great charisma – this has all the hallmarks of a modern classic – with or without amplification. The challenging but gratifying programme was rounded off by Percy Grainger’s The Warriors: Music to an Imaginary Ballet, Guerrero impressing with his unpretentious and firm, but fluid, style.

To round off the week, tonight I went to a lesser-known venue, the West Park Presbyterian Church, to hear some young people at the very start of their careers. They were all students of Arik Braude and Sophie Arbuckle, and get together under the name Jeunes Virtuoses de New York. They performed conductorless, accompanying each other in various solo pieces with great panache and technique and a real sense of enjoyment.

So, it looks like there are going to be plenty of exciting string things to keep me entertained while I’m here. To keep up to date with where I get to, and suggest any ideas, follow me on my new twitter feed: @TheStradEdInNY.

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