Richard Goode, Alfred Brendel, Maurizio Pollini—a parade of eminent pianists has marched through Carnegie Hall in the last few weeks. But other events this spring remind us that successors to these grand old men are growing up fast.
The final concert of the New York Youth Symphony’s 44th season—at Carnegie Hall on May 27—was also the farewell appearance of Paul Haas, the group’s young and dynamic music director, who’s moving on after a successful five-year term. His choice, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, was ambitious, and the assured performance he coaxed out of his charges (none of whom are older than 22) was an impressive achievement.
Not only is the Ninth in general an enormously difficult work, but it contains the most challenging and exposed second-violin part in the classical repertory. A second-violin section—like the house wine at a French bistro—is a good test of an orchestra’s overall quality. This one, drilled for weeks by Mr. Haas, was proficient, comme il faut.
The Ninth is a spiritual challenge as well as a technical one. There’s no question that the fulfillment of the thousands of subtle directions—dynamic markings, articulations, emotional expressions, tempo shifts—which Mahler put into the score would have been carried off with greater precision by a proper professional orchestra. But Mr. Haas’ tendency to just let things fly by in grand gusts of music was also part of the problem. Though there’s a magnificent story inside this death-haunted symphony, Mr. Haas’ streamlined performance—which he led without a score in front of him—didn’t tell me much about it.
And yet his ability will take him far, as he proved by leading an auspicious world-premiere performance of “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine,” a powerful, carefully calibrated rock-driven work by Dan Visconti, one of the dozens of talented young composers the orchestra has commissioned over the years. The piece featured the debut of the Symphony Singers, a new choral arm of the Youth Symphony. Their firm musicianship carried them well through “Matthew Says,” an imaginative fantasia by Mr. Haas, concocted from the Lutheran chorales which Bach used in his St. Matthew Passion.
THE WORDLESS MUSIC SERIES, a new venture spearheaded by Ronen Givony, a hardworking junior administrator at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, is an exciting example of youth making its own arrangements. The series is dedicated to the not-outlandish idea that in an age in which boundaries between musical genres seem to be breaking down, audiences might appreciate hearing contemporary classical and progressive instrumental music side by side.
Judging by the last two concerts, Mr. Givony is on to something: Each was packed with a throng of the scruffy yet well-educated twentysomethings that classical marketers crave.