New York Philharmonic Turnage Premiere

Symphony No.29 in A, K201 *
Horn Concerto No.1 in E flat, Op.11 *
Scherzoid [New York Philharmonic & London Philharmonic co-commission: World premiere]
Peter Grimes – Four Sea Interludes

Philip Myers (horn)

New York Philharmonic
Lorin Maazel *
Xian Zhang

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 12 January, 2005
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Since being named co-winner of the inaugural Maazel-Vilar International Conductor’s Competition in 2002, Xian Zhang has been hailed as a protégé of New York Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel. So there was little surprise when she was appointed to the position of Assistant Conductor at the New York Philharmonic in 2004. With the appointment, she took over a post that has been held by predecessors such as Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, and Seiji Ozawa. And with this concert, Zhang – who made her Philharmonic debut leading performances of Corigliano’s Promenade Overture and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition at a Young People’s Concert last February – took on a rigorous assignment. On this program, which she shared with Maazel, Zhang’s task was to lead the world premiere of Scherzoid, a vigorous 15-minute work by Mark-Anthony Turnage, and to close the concert with Britten’s hauntingly evocative Four Sea Interludes.

According to Turnage, Scherzoid was originally planned as “a scherzo that keeps trying to change personalities, from light to dark,” but after a preliminary reading by the Philharmonic last year, he decided to restructure the piece to make is less changeable. Even so, the changes are plentiful and swift in this highly energetic work, which consists almost entirely of continuous fast music. The piece follows a scherzo-trio-scherzo-trio-scherzo pattern, and the insistent pulse continues throughout the arrangement, even in the relatively slower trio sections. The work displays a wide range of influences, jazz being central to them. Zhang’s confident and fluent conducting responded aptly to the wide-ranging demands of the piece, with the Philharmonic players delivering an energetic and exciting performance.

Following the Turnage, Zhang had an opportunity to demonstrate her impact on more well-known music as she led the Philharmonic players through a reading of Britten’s Sea Interludes. Using broad, dramatic gestures, she elicited impressive color from the strings, and responsive playing from both the horns and the winds. This was an inspired performance that displayed all the power and atmospheric beauty of Britten’s music.

Maazel, who conducted the first half of the program, had a less rigorous task. Before ceding the podium to Zhang, he conducted Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Strauss’s Horn Concerto No.1. His account of the Mozart was odd but not altogether unpleasing. In both the opening Allegro moderato and the ensuing Andante the pace was extremely relaxed, at times eccentrically slow. But his reading of the last two movements was quite different. The Minuet was especially light and tripping, and the final Allegro was played at an exhilarating speed.

Philip Myers, the Philharmonic’s principal horn, took center-stage in Strauss’s muscular First Horn Concerto, a work the composer wrote at the age of 18. Myers was in especially good form for this concert, delivering a brightly toned, ripely exuberant performance and relishing the cheerful good humor of the piece. The rest of the orchestra was in equally good shape and everybody, including the maestro, appeared to be enjoying themselves as they provided the soloist with admirable support.

  • The performance was followed by ones on January 13, 15 and 18
  • New York Philharmonic
  • UK premiere of Scherzoid on 26 January, Royal Festival Hall, London Philharmonic conducted by Jonathan Nott

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