The NY Philharmonic devoted its first "Contact" program this year to a lengthy work for chamber ensemble with soprano soloist by Gerard Grisey (1946-1998) and a lengthy work for chamber ensemble in memory of Grisey by the NYP's composer-in-residence, Magnus Lindberg. The ensembles, drawn from members of the orchestra and conducted by Music Director Alan Gilbert, performed at Symphony Space before a moderately full house. NYC classical radio personality John Schaefer interviewed Gilbert and Lindberg before each piece.
Unfortunately, I have to report that I found the evening incredibly boring. Not the talks – to judge by the spoken introductions, we were about to hear fascinating exercises in sonority and time distention, although – to be fair – Gilbert warned that boredom was one of the possible side effects in the Grisey piece. This was music that struck me as elaborate navel-gazing. One comment from the stage was that listening to Grisey might be like sitting motionless watching water very slowly dripping – so slowly that a drip could be a major event. That strikes me as a recipe for drowsiness right off the bat, and so it was.
I suppose there is an audience for this kind of "music," but I prefer to listen to pieces that include all the basic elements of music, not just sonority distended over time. An entire evening without much that might be described as melody is a bit much. Call me old-fashioned, call me a musical philistine, but I'm not impressed by this, and it quickly loses my attention.
Last year's "Contact" series presented much more interesting fare. I'm hoping the second program in the series, on December 18, with its focus on younger living composers, will generate more interest. Certainly the Philharmonic should be encouraged to program music of our time, and certainly there will be hits and misses. I rate this one a miss. There is a reason why Grisey's music is not well-known in the U.S. (or anywhere, I would guess). Lindberg's music is known, and I generally find it more interesting than the sample given its premiere tonight. He studied with Grisey, and this piece seems to have been heavily infected by that experience.
The concert was taped and will be webcast by NY public radio several times over the next few days, so people can judge for themselves.