Pintscher’s noisy NWS program shows it’s time to reboot Sounds of the Times

By Lawrence Budmen

Matthias Pintscher conducted the New World Symphony in music of Balter, Zimmermann and Lachenmann Saturday night.

Conductor Matthias Pintscher told the audience at the New World Symphony’s Sounds of the Times concert on Saturday night that they were experiencing a program of “exquisite contemporary treasures.” 

The only work played at the New World Center that could remotely be called “exquisite” was Orun by Brazilian composer Marcos Balter, heard in its world premiere. Clanging and thumping essays by Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Helmut Lachenmann belonged to a harsher creative genre.

Balter’s seven-minute rumination is inspired by the meditative ethos of the Yoruba religion. Replete with more atmospheric mood setting than thematic incident, the score suggests a soothing New Age sedative. Within this limited compass, Balter has crafted this vignette with great skill. Harp and strings open and close the piece with brass fanfares and mallet percussion adding short climactic bursts in midstream. The luminous textures of the string and wind playing took special honors in a finely contoured performance. The composer was not present and, unusually for a New World premiere, did not make a video introduction before the performance.

New World fellow Ben Fryxell was soloist in Canto di Speranza (Song of Hope) by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Dubbed a “cantata for cello and orchestra” by the composer, the 1950’s work seems more a contest between the opposing forces of the soloist and reduced ensemble component. The opening cello motif is in the mode of early Schoenberg, pensive and brooding. Amid screeches from the wind and brass sections and loud clangs on percussion, a saxophone beams fragments of melody. Zimmermann’s invention runs thin before the end of the work’s 17-minute span. Fryxell’s tonal luster imbued the lyrical moments and his command of bowing and dynamics in an extended cadenza were impressive as he conquered Zimmermann’ harmonic and pyrotechnical minefields. Pintscher, expert at this type of complex creation, led an assured reading while never overwhelming Fryxell with Zimmermann’s orchestral tumult.

Pintscher called Helmut Lachenmann’s Schreiben “wild.” That is an understatement. For 27 minutes, brasses growl, strings strike their bows against their instruments’ wood and string board, two pianists on opposite sides of the stage pound away and hit the instrument’s strings and an enlarged percussion battery booms. Lachenmann, one of Pintscher’s teachers, has long been a lecturer at the Darmstadt summer composition school and his work is all too typical of the music that has come out of that venue for decades. Utilizing new instrumental techniques without any obvious purpose, the work has no discernible form. One can only admire the players for their dedicated traversal of this opus. It took all of Pintscher’s conducting expertise to balance and control the huge instrumental complement, including players with multiple timpani and cymbals on the satellite stages above the orchestra on each side.

What this program most effectively accomplished is demonstrating that it is time for a reboot of the Sounds of the Times series. In former seasons, these concerts drew a youthful, enthusiastic audience and delivered memorable musical events. HK Gruber sang his exuberant song cycle Frankenstein! John Adams conducted his Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz. The late British composer Oliver Knussen led his own scores and Michael Gordon’s multi-media Gotham was a whirling panorama of sight and sound. 

Recently, only Steve Reich’s Tehillim has provided those kinds of musical thrills. Some fine works have been played but pieces like Pierre Boulez’s ear splitting explosante-fixe (for three amplified flutes), Olga Neuwirth’s Massot/Clocks Without Hands and the Lachenmann work offered little value for either players or listeners. 

Perhaps a new artistic consultant needs to be brought in to plan and program the series, offering a more diverse menu of scores from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and beyond. These valuable concerts deserve renewed attention.

Teddy Abrams conducts the New World Symphony in Gabriela Lena Frank’s Concertino Cusqueño, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Dafnis Prieto’s Tentació Concerto with Children of Earth. Chad Goodman conducts Copland’s El Salón México. Concerts are 8 p.m. April 9 and 2 p.m. April 10 at New World Center in Miami Beach.

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Sun Apr 3, 2022
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