NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC GALA WITH YO-YO MA
Originally aired December 31, 2013
For decades now New Year's Eve on PBS has meant a Gala Concert by the New York Philharmonic. This year's installment in what is now a continuing tradition will be a Ravel sandwich, with filling of music by Piazzola and Golijov. The Philharmonic's Music Director, Alan Gilbert, will open the program with Ravel's "Alborada del Gracioso" and close it with the composer's “Bolero.” In between will come a Suite from Piazzola's "La serie del Angel" in an arrangement by Octavio Brunetti and Osvaldo Golijov's “Azul.” Both the latter works are scored for Cello and Orchestra, and our soloist will be no less a master of the instrument than Yo-Yo Ma.
Ravel's “Alborada del Gracioso” began its musical life in 1905 as a piece for solo piano in a collection titled “Miroirs.” Thirteen years later he transcribed the work for symphony orchestra with an enlarged percussion section. The word "alborada" references an old type of Spanish poetry and song in which a lover takes leave of his beloved at dawn. So “Alborada del Gracioso” is “The Jester's Morning Song.” The instrumentation is a riot of orchestral color, with a particularly haunting solo for English horn.
As George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” was once characterized as the introduction of jazz into the classical music concert hall, so the music of Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) may be said to have introduced the tango into the classical music concert hall. Argentinian by birth, Piazzolla spent his early years in New York's Greenwich Village. At some point his father acquired the Argentinian instrument, the accordian-like bandoneon, and young Astor began to explore the music of the Argentine tango. He also discovered the recordings of Carlos Gardel, the master of the bandoneon and the tango.
Years spent in Europe resulted in Piazzolla studying conducting with the legendary Hermann Scherchen and composition with the equally legendary Nadia Boulanger. In the end, however, he turned back to the bandoneon and created what was termed the ‘new tango.” In the early 1960s Piazzolla composed a series of works to accompany an Argentinian play about an angel who comes down to earth to give aid and comfort to the inhabitants of a downtrodden village. The angel accomplishes its mission, but is ultimately killed in a knife fight. It was the New York Philharmonic, expressly for this concert, which commissioned Octavio Brunetti, the inheritor of Piazzolla's mantle, to make this arrangement for cello and orchestra of Piazzolla's “La serie del Angel.” And this will mark the first of Yo-Yo Ma's two appearances with the Orchestra this evening.
Yo-Yo Ma will also take to the stage for the performance of "Azul" for cello and ensemble by the Argentine-American composer, Osvaldo Golijov. “Azul” was composed for Yo-Yo Ma in 2006 and received its premiere with Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which had commissioned it. The word “azul” in Spanish and Portugese means “blue.” In the half-dozen years since the premiere it has become a favorite in Yo-Yo Ma's repertory, and he has played it with colleagues the world over. Golijov's “Azul” is an evocation of music from the Baroque period, specifically of the 17th and 18th century French master Francois Couperin. It is rhapsodic, melismatic and altogether haunting in effect.
The concert concludes with Ravel's iconic “Bolero,” created in 1928 as a dance for the famed Ida Rubinstein. Ravel himself once described the score as “orchestral effects without music.” But what effects! A single theme is introduced by snare drum and solo flute, the snare drum continues with its rat-a-tat rhythmic motif throughout the piece while the theme is passed from one group of instruments to another, all the time increasing in volume. The ending is a shattering collapse.
It did not take long for “Bolero” to enter the mainstream of symphonic literature. As a matter of fact it was the New York Philharmonic, under Arturo Toscanini, that played the American premiere of “Bolero” in 1929. History is fuzzy concerning that premiere. Ravel paid a four-month visit to the United States in 1928, touring virtually the length and breadth of the land. There appears to be no record of a return visit by Ravel the next year. Yet legend has it that he attended that 1929 New York premiere and refused to acknowledge Toscanini’s singling him out in the audience afterwards because he felt Toscanini's tempo was unacceptably fast. Whether to make the point or not, Ravel himself recorded “Bolero” in January 1930 conducting the Paris Lamoureux Orchestra. The tempo is considerably slower than on a recording by Toscanini. Maestro Gilbert's tempo? We shall see and hear on Live From Lincoln Center on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2013!
I leave you with the usual suggestion that you check with your local PBS station for the exact day and time of the telecast in your area.
Happy New Year!