Most musical capitals of any significance buzz with activity in the good old summertime. That’s when the tourist trade flourishes and performing institutions show off their finest, or at least their most alluring, fare. New York, for reasons unclear, isn’t like that.
The Met closes its operatic doors between early May and late September. Carnegie Hall hosts academic graduation exercises. And, apart from sampling some esoterica at its annual festival, Lincoln Center concentrates on dance plus showbiz. A respite comes with Mostly Mozart, but the major efforts of that venture begin only at the end of July. One might call the situation frustrating.
The mighty New York Philharmonic does dabble, for a short while, in post-season experimentation, most notably via a series labelled Phil Biennial. This comes with preludes of lightweight chatter casting any composer on display opposite Alan Gilbert, the imaginative maestro-impresario in residence. And — almost forgot — the concerts bear a catchy slogan: “Let’s Play.”
The playing on Friday, the penultimate night of the current project, showcased two relatively celebrated US composers, both born in 1938. First came a super-jaunty Trombone Concerto by William Bolcom. Completed in 2015 and co-commissioned by the Shanghai Symphony, it lasts around 25 minutes and makes a pleasant, intricate, propulsive, nonstop noise.
After the interval, the bill, and microphone, turned to John Corigliano for his fearsome Conjurer: Concerto for Percussion and String Orchestra and Brass. Although written in 2007 and first heard in Pittsburgh the following year, this represented its local introduction. The audience, confined to the sprawling floor-level of Geffen Hall, with all three balconies closed, obviously loved every humping-thumping-jumping-ringing-echoing hemidemisemiquaver of the 35-minute orgy.
Joseph Alessi mustered a staggering trombone display on behalf of Bolcom in a performance that took our breath away, if not his. Martin Grubinger danced, pranced and banged with incredible temperament, not to mention variety, power and, yes, subtlety, through Corigliano’s ecstatic, multifaceted, hyper-complex tribulations.
In both cases, Gilbert and his reliable orchestra stayed discreetly in the background. Clearly, they served as appreciative supporting players here.
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