10 March 2009

“the searching question of What? and Why? which the spirit of man asks of life”

The nice German recipe—to hell with it!
Charles Ives

Alan Gilbert, music director designate of the New York Philharmonic, is in Boston conducting Sibelius, Rakhmaninov & Ives. [ review here ]

Even many who sort of wonder about Ives found the experience of the Fourth Symphony richly impressive. With a score calling for two cornets and six trumpets . . . even though Ives has two dozen different things going on at once, if the trumpets play too loud (and heck, they’re likely marked forte in the score) it’s just going to sound like trumpets, and everybody else is briefly a dumbshow. At one point you could see Stephen Drury planting both hands into the keys at the treble end of the piano, but one strained to hear any piano. That’s a technicality, though; the piece is fun on a grand scale.

Very funny story in the notes about John Heiss (composer, flutist, now a teacher at NEC) when yet a grad student, who went to the premiere at Carnegie Hall. A lady outside the hall offered him an extra ticket, on condition he explain to her something about Ives. The effulgent cacophony of the Comedy (second movement) ended, and the string fugue of the third movement began. “Is this still the same piece?,” she asked.

(Nor is it at all a bad question.)

The Theremin stood to the conductor’s right. The player stood, but so did the instrument, which had the look of a compact writing-desk, with part of a mammoth paper-clip sticking out one side.

A memorable event: part concert, part county fair, 100% Ives.