New York Philharmonic Debuts Hartke Symphony

By Eisler, Edith | Strings, January 2004 | Go to article overview

New York Philharmonic Debuts Hartke Symphony


Eisler, Edith, Strings


The 2003-2004 season began auspiciously with premieres of several new works. Two of them were presented by the New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel: Jacob Druckman's "Summer Lightning," September 24-30, in honor of the 75th anniversary of his birth; and Stephen Hartke's Third Symphony, commissioned by the orchestra to commemorate the second anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy, September 18-23. Both composers handled all the resources of a huge orchestra masterfully. Druckman used the percussion to evoke the elements' gentle whispers and furious eruptions, leading naturally to more program music: Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Strauss' "Don Quixote," with two Philharmonic principals-cellist Carter Brey and violist Cynthia Phelps-as splendid soloists.

Hartke's Symphony calls for a vocal quartet and the orchestra was joined by the Hilliard Ensemble (countertenor, two tenors, and baritone). The voices begin alone in close, dissonant clusters; stratospheric, shimmering strings create an ethereal atmosphere, but when the orchestra lets itself go, the effect is thrilling.

Hartke's musical language is centered in tonality, astringent rather than dissonant; inhabiting a sound-world all its own, it is mesmerizingly beautiful. The performance of this demanding, complex piece was most excellent; it received a standing ovation, shared by the composer.

The program also featured Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Maazel seemed more concerned with sculpting individual phrases than melding them into a cohesive whole, emphasizing contrast rather than continuity.

On September 21, its day off from the Philharmonic, the Hilliard Ensemble moved to Merkin Hall to perform two works that Hartke had written for the group. In the unaccompanied "Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain," Japanese poet Takamura Kotaro expresses his ecstatic reaction to seeing Notre-Dame in Paris; it was sung in English translation.

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