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A Young Orchestra Plays Old Carnegie Hall

Last Friday evening, an orchestra of young musicians known as The Orchestra Now (TŌN) began their third season at Carnegie Hall with an intentionally frightful and thrilling program of works by cinema composers Bernard Herrmann (1911-75) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). Herrmann is best known for his scores of Alfred Hitchcock movies, especially PSYCHO (1960) and its famous shower scene, but he also composed a symphony, included on the evening’s program.

Korngold also wrote a symphony, the gorgeous Symphony in F-Sharp, Op. 40 (1947-52), but is best known for a host of cinema scores including A MIDSUMMER NIGHT”S DREAM (1935), THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), and KINGS ROW (1942). Korngold, an Austrian-born child prodigy, found favor at a young age from the likes of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. His melodies and orchestration would later influence the work of popular cinema composer John Williams. 

Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue, at 57th Street

The young orchestra, under the baton of their fearless leader Leon Botstein, pulled out all the strings for Herrmann’s Psycho, Suite for String Orchestra (1960). In a spoken introduction, a member of the ensemble invited the audience to set aside their inclination to imagine scenes from the movie while listening and simply focus on the drama of the music. Indeed, the music stands on its own as a moody, turbulent, and emotional work, a setting for any violent storm whether internal or external. The musicians played the famous repetitive stabbing passages with great relish and volume. The celebrated acoustics of the vaulted Carnegie Hall would have caught any stumbles, but the musicians confidently hit all the right veins and vessels.

The Korngold symphony was the evening’s revelation, as this sublime work rarely gets played. Its triumphant melody foreshadows Williams’s much-played theme from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, so much so that the music must have long stuck in the later composer’s head. The work is well-composed as a symphony, and well-played by the orchestra (with a shout-out to the wind and horn sections), and particularly effective in a dream-like Adagio movement.

If you’re looking to adopt an orchestra, one that shows off great ensemble work by excellent musicians, look for upcoming concerts by The Orchestra Now (TŌN), a training orchestra for pre-professional musicians and a master's degree program at Bard College. You can mingle with the members during intermissions.

Guest conductor Gerard Schwarz, music director of the All-Star Orchestra, will take the podium for two more November concerts titled Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony - one at the Fisher Center at Bard College on November 18, and in New York City at Peter Norton Symphony Space on November 19 as part of the Around Town series of free concerts.  

Website for The Orchestra Now (TŌN) for more information.

Image of Carnegie Hall by Walking Off the Big Apple from Friday, November 3, 2017. I received comp tickets for this performance, but opinions are my own.

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