Berliner Philharmoniker at Carnegie Hall – Kirill Petrenko conducts Andrew Norman’s Unstuck & Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, with Noah Bendix-Blagley playing Mozart Violin Concerto K207

Andrew Norman
Violin Concerto No.1 in B-flat, K207
Symphony in F-sharp, Op.40

Noah Bendix-Balgley (violin)

Berlin Philharmoniker
Kirill Petrenko

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 11 November, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

This second program in the Berliner Philharmoniker three-concert series at Carnegie. Andrew Norman’s Unstuck is a lively and adventurous ten-minute piece inspired by a sentence from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five – “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time” – which led to a breakthrough in Norman’s struggle with writer’s block in 2008. He describes how that line led to a realization that the “mess of musical fragments” he was ‘stuck’ with might lend itself to a non-linear narrative. The result is a tight knit, rhythmically complex composition, full of striking juxtapositions and brilliant colors. As it proceeds there are many beautiful moments as various ideas appear and reappear unexpectedly, and the music continually veers back and forth between the delicately lyrical and violently explosive until dying away in a simple ascending theme voiced by three cellos. The Philharmoniker players delivered a dazzling performance.

Mozart’s First Violin Concerto featured Noah Bendix-Balgley, the orchestra’s first concertmaster. He gave a fresh, vigorous and affectionate performance, his violin singing with silver-toned sweetness as his colleagues provided him with sensitive support. He offered an encore: two mercurial klezmer melodies, played with zest and brilliance. 

Following intermission, a rarity: Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp. He finished it in 1952 – more than a decade after he had achieved Hollywood fame – and dedicated it to the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died seven years earlier. A blending of modernism and late-Romantic opulence, it calls for a large orchestra and is scored with resource and flair. Its greatest rewards are in the numerous solos and sectional passages, including the flute and clarinet solos in the intense and turbulent first movement, the heroic horns in the dazzlingly dramatic Scherzo, the perky woodwinds in the optimistic Finale, but especially the clarinet and plaintive piccolo in the soulful Adagio. Kirill Petrenko kept the playing full and forceful without ever feeling heavy, and the Philharmoniker musicians responded with virtuosity and fervor.

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