This was Jaap van Zweden’s inaugural concert as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. He began with Ashley Fure’s Filament, which mixes sonic and visual elements, its most distinctive feature being the use of a hall’s space to convey elements of location and shifting directionality of sound. Amplified instruments are played from pedestals triangulated across the audience and stage, with fifteen vocalists dispersed throughout the auditorium, projecting their directionally-focused voices through radial megaphones. Most arresting were the rather strange sounds Brandon Lopez generated by swiping a credit card over the strings of his five-stringed double bass with unusual scordatura tuning. The trumpet and bassoon were less interesting, with the latter overpowered most of the time. The often-eerie voices physically and acoustically surrounded the audience at first, but ended clustered together at the foot of the stage. The extensive array of percussion instruments includes waterphones and ocean drums (neither of which, despite their names, are aquatic in nature), as well as a variety of implements for attacking the percussion instruments. Van Zweden kept the orchestra in synchrony, and despite the concatenation of its many shrill and discordant sounds, I found the piece quite pleasant to listen to and, to some extent, to watch.
After this fourteen-minute curtain raiser, Daniil Trifonov gave a delightful performance of Ravel’s G-major Piano Concerto. Following the Allegramente’s whip-crack beginning, he and van Zweden captured the bluesy character of its melodies with Trifonov masterfully carrying off its challenging trill-laden passages. The unaccompanied opening of the Adagio assai was gorgeous, soloist and orchestra then continuing in ardent partnership, and then imbuing the Presto with jazzy wit. Van Zweden proved an able partner, with Nancy Allen’s harp and Grace Shryock’s English horn making noteworthy contributions. As an encore, Trifonov offered Debussy's 'Reflets dans l'eau' (from Images, Série I).
Following intermission came The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky’s century-old work that still feels like new music. The Philharmonic was in terrific form, driving rhythms carried off with precision and gentler segments performed with tender feeling. To cap off the evening, van Zweden led his new band in a rousing rendition of ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ from Wagner’s Die Walküre, the brass section sounding resplendent. This marriage of musicians and maestro is off to a harmonious start.