BWW Reviews: Penderecki 'Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos' Makes Philharmonic Debut

BWW Reviews: Penderecki 'Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos' Makes Philharmonic DebutThe brilliant Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance - especially in New York this month! His works were performed in at least three concert halls over the last month and the composer himself made appearances at several of the performances. While hardly a household name, Penderecki has emassed a sizable fan base (if the packed house of rabid fans at Avery Fisher Hall was any indicator). Ever since his "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" hit the scene in 1961, he had the new music crowd's attention. And he always delivered the goods - loud, noisy, bombastic, iconoclastic explosions of sound that often hinted at form but never long enough to be noticeable. It would be practically impossible to try to describe Penderecki's music in mere words.

Last week the New York Philharmonic delivered its premier performance of Penderecki's 2000 opus, The Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos, with no less than the legendary Charles Dutoit at the podium.

The Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos is densely layered at times and shockingly austere at others, with a multitude of short solos on a variety of instruments supporting the principle soloists of the piece - the cellists. And what cellists! Alternately playing alone, in pairs and in trio, the evening's three soloist were nothing short of remarkable. Each played with stunning virtuosity, but what was much more interesting was the amount of personal style and individual expressiveness that each brought to their playing. There was never any mistaking when Alisa Weilerstein, or Daniel Müller-Schott or Philharmonic Principle Cellist Carter Brey were playing, such was their individual expressiveness. The three dove fearlessly into the hard, harsh and at times, horrifying music. Mister Daniel Müller-Schott impressively performed the entire piece without so much as glancing at the score. The passion of the interplay between the soloists seemed to create an electrifying mini-show within the show.

The piece itself runs just over a half hour in length and is divided into six movements played without any breaks. It has moments of astonishingly beautiful, interweaving of melodic lines and moments that border on complete cacophony. It was never boring, but not always exciting either. The intermittent solos and duets never seemed to move or build to anything, rather they seems like casual conversation between cellos (perhaps that was the composer's aim) and ultimately the listener is left feeling that they have heard and observed something incredible, but not necessarily something that they particularly enjoyed.

Dutoit, looking very spry and nimble at 77 years old, brought tremendous energy to the piece and the orchestra responded with equally dynamic playing. At the performance's completion the audience went wild giving conductor, soloists and orchestra a richly deserved ovation. Then to end the first half of the concert, the composer himself (who will celebrate his 80th birthday this month) took the stage to near rock-concert-like applause.

The Penderecki piece was sandwiched between to unlikely bookends: one very Spanish by way of France and one quintessentially Russian -both associated with Ravel. Ravel's Rhapsodie Espagnole seemed like a trifle compared to the Concerto Grosso, but the Philharmonic gave it a fine, if not particularly thrilling read.

After the break, Dutoit literally leapt up to the podium and in the same motion commenced Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Why the rush? Perhaps the solo trumpet that began the famous Promenade section was caught off guard as he hit an extremely exposed sour note right in opening bars which caused a bit of a wince throughout the crowd. Sadly it was not the only hyper-exposed sour note of the evening. In the Old Castle section, the solo saxophone also hit a clunker during a quiet and unforgiving moment. Despite the rocky start, and an unusually brisk tempo, the performance was thrilling. The final section, the Great Gate at Kiev was simply ravishing and appropriately joyful. Dutoit practically leaped off the podium during the final bars, completely transported by the passion of the piece and the marvelously playing of the orchestra.

Dutoit chose Ravel's 1922 arrangement of the piece perhaps to bookend the evening thematically, but in reality neither pieces gelled well with the Penderecki. Overall, the evening, while most enjoyable, felt like two separate and distinct concerts.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Taylor

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Peter Danish Peter Danish is a Media Marketing Consultant and Classical Arts Presenter. He is a founding member of ArtsRock, where he presented concerts with such world renowned artists as Grammy winning Classical Guitarist Sharon Isbin, Grammy winning Violinist Marc O'Connor, The Eroica Trio, The American Brass Quintet, The New York Philharmonic Brass Quintet, Alec Baldwin, Louis Black and Robert Klein. At The Riverspace Performing Arts Center, he presented such artists as Meryl Streep, Jonathan Demme, Bill T. Jones, Bill Irwin, Mike Nichols, Ani Di Franco, Eve Ensler, Pete Seeger, Ellen Burstyn, Edward Albee and Kathleen Turner. He has programmed concerts and educational programs for a multitude of local arts organizations including the American National Opera and the Westchester Hudson Opera, and has lectured on opera and classical music in schools and libraries as part of their outreach programs. For over two decades he has served as Director of Marketing for NBC, Vice President of Marketing for Telemundo, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Azteca TV Network, and Marketing Consultant to PBS. He is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America, The Wagner Society of N.Y. and Board of Trustees of the award-winning classical concert series, The Carnegie Room Concerts at the Nyack Library. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Ad Age, Ad Week and Media Week.