The texture of concertgoing in New York has changed a lot since the days when titans like Heifetz, Horowitz, Toscanini, and Rubinstein came, played, conquered – and left, until the next royal appearance. One pretty much knew what to expect from them: great music by familiar composers, arranged in an orderly fashion and performed with passion; a point of view; and dazzling virtuosity. What more could an audience want?
A great deal more, as it happens, especially in an era when the standard repertory has been played and recorded to death, and a comparable body of new music has not materialized to engage majority tastes. As the upcoming season at Carnegie Hall attests, some concert artists are shaking up that repertoire with contemporary compositions. Others are settling in for series that allow them to take an audience on a more complex journey than any single concert can offer, while mixing it up with other performers for a little cross-fermentation.
Instead of a conventional evening of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, et al., for example, violinist Gidon Kremer is devoting himself to the music of Vivaldi – and Piazzolla – on October 20, a program called “Eight Seasons,” in which Kremer is joined by his Kremerata Baltica ensemble. The master of Italian Baroque meets the master of Argentine tango, and who knows what will happen when Kremer mixes and matches the two composers’ suites depicting spring, summer, fall, and winter?
There is a logic to this topsy-turvy pairing, Kremer explains: The seasons double themselves in Earth’s two hemispheres. “Admitting the global irrelevance of up and down, of north and south, of day and night – in virtual reality it all takes place simultaneously – we also have to admit the irrelevance of any classification. In comparison to the age of the Egyptian pyramids, didn’t Mozart live an instant ago?” Hmmm.
Andras Schiff, meanwhile, is taking up a massive Bach retrospective where he left off last season. The pianist plays an ambitious three-part marathon that includes both books of The Well-Tempered Klavier (November 4 and 8) and the Goldberg Variations (November 11). Just before he plunges in, Schiff will join Carnegie Hall’s artistic adviser, Ara Guzelimian, on November 3 to discuss his views on Bach and, presumably, why he enjoys immersing himself to the hilt in a composer’s total oeuvre.
For sheer expenditure of energy, Daniel Barenboim will be hard to surpass. He arrives in November, and by the time he departs, just before Christmas, he’ll have shared the stage with an all-star chamber ensemble (Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Pinchas Zukerman, Maxim Vengerov, and Larry Combs) to play Schumann, Brahms, and Messiaen (November 20); performed an all-Schubert piano-duo program with Radu Lupu (November 27); given a solo recital (November 28); and conducted all nine Beethoven symphonies as well as played the five piano concertos in six concerts with the Staatskapelle Berlin (December 11-17).
Conductor Lorin Maazel will be right in the action, too. A former child prodigy, Maazel seems determined to celebrate his 70th birthday by proving himself a senior prodigy. He conducts and appears as soloist in his own “Music for Violin and Orchestra With the Bavarian Radio Symphony” (November 6), takes on the three Brahms violin sonatas with Yefim Bronfman (January 16), and, with the New York Philharmonic in Avery Fisher Hall, presides over an evening-length condensation of Wagner’s Ring cycle for orchestra alone (November 16, 17, 18, and 20).
How to judge all this unusual activity? There is always the possibility that times have changed in some ways for the better. Certainly the interaction between music-maker and audience seems to be far more dynamic than in the past, with the musician acting as a charismatic teacher who has the luxury of communicating in a universal language. No one believes this more strongly than Franz Xaver Ohnesorg, Carnegie Hall’s new executive and artistic director, who is determined to offer provocative musical experiences that will cultivate younger ticket buyers and keep them coming back for more.
“That is why we are thinking more in terms of ongoing creative projects, not episodes,” says Ohnesorg. “And the projects come from a direct dialogue with the artists, what they have on their minds and how they want to reach audiences. Every musician we work with – Boulez, Pollini, Barenboim, Schiff, Peter Serkin – has an open-minded, appealingly communicative style, one that hardly requires a degree in musicology for one to get the message.”