How lucky am I to be in NYC during this day and age? There are not enough adjectives out there to describe how alive I felt during the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra concert yesterday at Carnegie Hall. Sublime is the best I got. Maestro Levine unleashed such free-spirited beauty from Carnegie Hall, making me willing to argue that today, this orchestra is the finest in the world. That statement is obviously very subjective, but judging from the captivated audience and the overwhelmingly rousing ovation following every piece, I’d be hard pressed to find an audience moved to such an extent as this one. During Beethoven’s 5th Symphony I didn’t quite know whether to cry or hold my breath. Maestro Levine is a true master of Romantic expression, never hesitating to luxuriate the music with rubato and always letting the musicians shine with emotion. Some people might find his interpretations a bit too liberal and different from how the composer intended, but no one can deny their freshness and easy appeal. Classical music was never intended to be pondered over, or over-analyzed during a concert. Being a performer myself, I can tell you that over-thinking is the last thing you want to do when on stage. The reason Beethoven’s 5th has become the leading sound of classical music isn’t because of the ingenious composition that has been dissected by scholars for decades, but instead because of its immediate captivation by the trained and untrained ear, alike. The opening short-short-short-long motive can be misconstrued as cliché when heard in commercials, movies, and other vices of uncontrolled capitalism. But when heard live, it rudely awakens the listener and captures their entire Self for approximately 35 minutes.
The concert started with Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, the Unfinished. Maestro Levine gave free reign to the strings, making the most of their dynamic swells and climaxes. Reflecting the title later attached to the symphony after Schubert’s death, this piece leaves the listener unsettled, as if there is something unfinished about themselves. It was the perfect way to begin a concert in NYC, where people are constantly moving, changing, and never ever finished. The final E major chord at the end oddly does not have a concluding feeling.
The coloratura soprano Diana Damrau followed in the concert, singing eight orchestral songs by Richard Strauss. Some were from Strauss’s early years, others from when he was older, but they all had that undying and unmistakable romantic expression. Ms. Damrau floated above the orchestra like a little dove, sometimes letting herself fall into the orchestral texture, and other times soaring high above. After the intermission she sang a diva worthy performance of “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” from Ariadne auf Naxos. She utterly yet positively ripped the music apart, playing and laughing throughout- the sign of a true Diva.
It is a shame that with the exception of a few concerts each year, we only hear this orchestra form inside a pit. They sound exceptional from there too, and their night-to-night performance is bound to change slightly with the impressive menu of conductors they offer, but there is something special when they are led by Maestro Levine. Maybe it is because his work brought this orchestra up to the level it is today, maybe the orchestra subconsciously gives more when led by their paternal figure, or maybe Mr. Levine is a magician. It’s probably a combination of all three. Yea, I like magic.