For two drowsy decades, the New York Philharmonic played it safe: a pair of grand-old-man music directors (Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel), redundant festivals of canonical composers (Brahms, Tchaikovsky), the usual parade of soloists (when in doubt, Yo-Yo Ma). Attendance figures were generally good and finances mostly stable, yet the Philharmonic made few waves. Even last year, when a visit to North Korea generated headlines, the itinerary drew more notice than the music-making. It takes some effort to remember that this orchestra used to be a fairly wild group. In the nineteen-fifties, Dimitri Mitropoulos confronted audiences with twelve-tone music and had them dancing in the aisles, albeit toward the exits. His successor, Leonard Bernstein, passionately promoted American composers, dabbled in avant-garde happenings, and tried to convince schoolkids that Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” gave a better high than LSD. Pierre Boulez, for his Rug Concerts series of the seventies, had the seats removed from Philharmonic Hall and seduced shaggy-haired crowds with far-out sounds of Varèse and Ligeti. As recently as the nineteen-eighties, Zubin Mehta held festivals titled Horizons, exploring diverse modern fare.A great warm-up, and then he pulls a wicked head-fake with his curtain-line to this rant:
In other words, the Philharmonic once put its virtuosity in the service of ideas.Oh, so those are the “other words” that aptly encapsulate all that musical activity?
And Mark Swed on “the G-man” at the LA Phil.