New York Philharmonic/Jaap van Zweden at Carnegie Hall – Snider & Mahler – Hilary Hahn plays Barber

Sarah Kirkland Snider
Forward Into Light [world premiere]
Violin Concerto, Op.14
Symphony No.1 in D

Hilary Hahn (violin)

New York Philharmonic
Jaap van Zweden


Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 10 June, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

While the New York Philharmonic’s Lincoln Center home is undergoing extensive renovation, the orchestra has been performing at Carnegie Hall along with various other venues around the city. This concert brought the season to a thrilling conclusion.

First, Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Forward into Light, one of nineteen works by nineteen women composers commissioned by the Philharmonic in its Project 19 to celebrate the centennial of the ratification of the NineteenthAmendment, giving American women the right to vote. The composer describes her work as “a meditation on perseverance, bravery, and alliance … inspired by the American women suffragists who devoted their lives to the belief that women were … entitled to equal rights and protections under the law.” Her stated intent was for her musical ideas to interact and develop in ways that parallel the “synergistic interpersonal partnerships” of leading suffragists. but the result is not evidently programmatic.

At the start, soft rising violin figures and a canon initiated by lower strings combine with the glistening harp, setting the table for development throughout the fourteen-minute piece. Jaap van Zweden ably steered the Philharmonic through fascinating twists and turns, quirky rhythms and dynamic contrasts. The colorful orchestration includes regal touches from the trumpets, a brief but lovely clarinet tune, sonorous cello melodies and a wide range of sounds from percussion. The most unifying element was Nancy Allen’s outstanding playing as her harp returned time after time to lead, connect and punctuate the music. 

Toward the end, the oboes offer a quote from Dame Ethel Smyth’s March of the Women, and a recording of a portion of that anthem (sung by Werca’s Folk, a women’s choir from Northumberland, England) sounds above the orchestra. The original ideas return, bringing the work full-circle.

Hilary Hahn began her rhapsodic performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto by caressing the opening lyrical melody. Van Zweden was an excellent partner, affording the soloist considerable freedom to subtly tweak her playing. Liang Wang’s superb oboe solo began the Andante with another gorgeous melody, and in the moto perpetuo Finale, Hahn showed off virtuosic technique, playing rapid-fire. Her coordination of both hands was brilliant, her fingers flying on the fingerboard, but at one point remaining stationary there as her bow hopped from string to string to keep the ongoing figures going at the same breakneck pace. Hahn offered a spellbinding encore: the ‘Sarabande’ from J. S. Bach’s D-minor Partita, BWV1004.

Following intermission, van Zweden led Mahler’s First Symphony. Offstage trumpets and melodious horns were terrific in the introductory passages that preceded the cellos’ voicing of a theme inspired by the composer’s earlier Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and brought out not only allusions to the sounds of nature, replete with birdsong and cuckoo calls, but also the dance-like character of the music. In the Scherzo, a Ländler, he superbly managed contrasts, balances and changes of tempo, including transitions to and from the graceful Trio. 

Principal bassist Timothy Cobb’s beautifully played solo, a minor-key version of the ‘Frère Jacques’ tune, served as an odd funeral march, echoed by Judith LeClair’s bassoon and Wang’s oboe. Van Zweden’s take on the klezmer passages seemed a bit foursquare, however. The Finale came as a thunderbolt with the brass brilliant. Van Zweden, employing lots of rubato, milked the principal theme as a sort of tearjerker, the string-playing excellent. The level of excitement rose dramatically once the horns introduced the grand theme to which the movement had been driving and rose again later after intervening quieter recollections of previous material. Van Zweden observed Mahler’s instruction to have the seven horn-players standing in the heroic concluding passages.

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