MTT at Carnegie Hall

On the third night that Michael Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco Symphony Orchestra took the stage of Carnegie Hall, the program fell back into conventional: a compact symphony by Knussen preludes Beethoven 9.

Knussen’s symphony has extremely crafted texture and colors: strings either contributed ghostly tremolos or chopped abruptly with percussion-wise sound. It is dichotomic madness, hysteria contrasting with ominous despair. 

With the same sensibility, MTT brought a full house of a meticulous or even a little bit fastidious performance of Beethoven Sym. No 9. San Francisco was such a refined orchestra, nevertheless they didn’t let the leash loose. The impulse that propels the first movement contained more calculation than necessary that the main themes built up its affirmative voice convincingly yet not spontaneously. The second movement was played with delicate balance and clarity. At the end of the balcony, I could hear the interplay between different sections. Still it feels laborious rather than a natural burst of unstopping music flow.

MTT with his orchestra was at his best in the meditative orchestra. The lyrical slow movements of late Beethoven are always miracles. There is no violent harmony yet the melody has lasting yearnings that stirs deep in the heart and disquiet the serenity on the surface. Giving up the traditional structure that emphasized the theatrical divergence, Beethoven mapped a series of variation that channeled the profound of moods from one to another with nuance and surprise that words fail to describe. MTT elaborated the variations with seamless transitions and progressed into the point that the inner anxiety confronts with a longing for heroism. The first violin brought me the same extreme experience as I had before when hearing late Beethoven: an almost forlorn cry under the tremendous open space of tranquility.

The last movement is almost fail-proof with massive orchestra tutti and grand chorale. But New York Chorus Artists gave a strong performance of the finale. I only wish that I had never heard it before and could enjoy such stunning music with fresh ears and mind.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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