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Stéphane Denève leads the New York Philharmonic with Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider Beethoven Violin Concerto. Photo by Chris Lee.
At Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall, on the evening of Thursday, November 9th, I had the considerable privilege to attend an outstanding concert presented by the New York Philharmonic—continuing a strong season of orchestral music—under the impressive direction of Stéphane Denève.
The program began brilliantly with a sterling rendition of the excellent Fate Now Conquers from 2019 by Carlos Simon, which appears to be one of the most frequently performed contemporary works in the classical idiom. About it, the composer has commented, “This piece was inspired by a journal entry from Ludwig van Beethoven’s notebook written in 1815.” The passage reads:
Iliad. The Twenty-Second BookBut Fate now conquers; I am hers;and yet not she shall shareIn my renown; that life is left toevery noble spiritAnd that some great deed shallbeget that all lives shall inherit.
Using the beautifully fluid harmonic structure of the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, I have composed musical gestures that are representative of the unpredictable ways of fate. Jolting stabs, coupled with an agitated groove with every persona. Frenzied arpeggios in the strings that morph into an ambiguous cloud of free-flowing running passages depict the uncertainty of life that hovers over us. We know that Beethoven strived to overcome many obstacles in his life and documented his aspirations to prevail, despite his ailments. Whatever the specific reason for including this particularly profound passage from theIliad,in the end, it seems that Beethoven relinquished to fate. Fate now conquers.
The admirable virtuoso, Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, then joined the musicians for a marvelous account of Beethoven’s extraordinary Violin Concerto. The elaborate and ambitious initial movement, marked Allegro ma non troppo, opens dramatically but quickly becomes melodious and joyous in mood—and with a somewhat proto-Mendelssohnian quality—but the composer sustains a compelling sense of suspense throughout it. The ensuing Larghetto is lyrical, reflective and relatively subdued but also affirmative—it is the most Mozartean of the three movements—while theRondofinale—with a tempo of Allegro—is dance-like, ebullient and dynamic, and elicited an enthusiastic ovation. The violinist rewarded the audience with a wonderful encore: the Sarabande from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004.
The second half of the event was at least equally memorable, consisting of a stunning realization of the awesome Symphony No. 3 of Camille Saint-Saëns—it is dedicated to the memory of Franz Liszt—featuring the celebrated Kent Tritle on the organ. The complex first movement begins as a quiet Adagio but rapidly transforms into an exciting Allegro moderato, which also, maybe surprisingly, evokes the orchestral work of Felix Mendelssohn as well as the opening movement of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony; the music acquires an elevated character when the organ enters in the closing Poco adagio section. The imposing second movement starts turbulently but then becomes more playful, finally building to a thrilling, propulsive, fugue-like conclusion, which drew vigorous applause.
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