One strong orchestra – especially an orchestra populated by enthusiastic music-students – can make a mighty noise. Two such orchestras, therefore, can make an even mightier noise.
And so it was on Wednesday at the sprawling Lincoln Center Festival. The event, oddly heralded as a “preview” of the BBC Proms concert scheduled for London on Monday, turned out to be a smash-bang performance uniting eager ensembles from the Juilliard School and the Royal Academy of Music. Virtuosic young hands across the sea, and all that.
The audience at Avery Fisher Hall, capacity 2,738, paid no more than $30 a ticket and made up in cheer for what it lacked in numbers. The stellar attraction, greeted with conquering-hero ebullience, was the conductor John Adams. Not incidentally, the advance blurb labelled him “a giant among contemporary composers”. Under the circumstances, only a churl could remain unmoved. OK. Call this observer a churl.
The programme, comprising great hits of Respighi, Ravel and Adams, rattled the hyper-resonant rafters. The students on duty played brilliantly, for the most part. They also played as if communal lives were at stake. The result: a great night for bombast, well honed, and for vulgarity, carefully defined. It was not a great night, alas, for delicacy, subtlety or introspection.
Respighi’s tawdry Feste Romane opened the festivities sounding even tawdrier than tradition might dictate. For all his podium bravado, John-the-giant blurred the crucial line that separates much from too much. In this context, the gentlemanly jazz of Ravel’s G-major Concerto offered almost intimate relief. And Imogen Cooper, the unflappable keyboard protagonist, dazzled in all the jaunty razzle.
Adams’ own City Noir (2009) served as a gut-thumping Hollywoodish finale. A stylised ode to movie-music c1940, the score filters soft old clichés through tough contemporary sensibilities. There is much lush meandering here, much rhythmic and textural complexity, much climactic bravura.
Adams and his ultra-attentive band sent the crowd home happy. Well, most of the crowd anyway.