As the nation’s cultural capital, New York City benefits from both its plethora of A-list resident arts organizations as well as fromthe myriad performing groups from around the world that visit its many stages and venues. The biggest names—the Bolshoi Ballet, the Vienna Philharmonic, and any group conducted by Valery Gergiev—always receive ample media coverage, but provincial visitors are frequently overlooked or given cursory attention.
This week the Big Apple paid unusual attention to visitors from Southern California. The first performance ever by the San Diego Symphony in Carnegie Hall (Tuesday, Oct. 29) was given a largely favorable review by the New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini on October 31, and the recently posted Nov. 4 issue of The New Yorker magazine included a feature on the Calder Quartet’s residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they are playing all six of the Béla Bartók string quartets along with contemporary European and American string quartet music with connections to popular idioms.
Tommasini’s lead focused on the heartening good news of the San Diego orchestra’s recovery from bankruptcy in the 1990s to pursue 15 consecutive seasons of balanced budgets and a repectable performance calendar, largely facilitated by the generous $120 million donation/pledge by Joan and Irwin Jacobs. Given the Minnesota Orchestra’s second year of shutdown due to financial and labor crises and the recent bankruptcy of the storied New York City Opera, the San Diego Symphony saga is one to restore hope to the lovers of classical music, although Tommasini warned his readers that “few ensembles in trouble today can expect such a generous gift to right things.”[php snippet=1]
On the performance aspect of the Carnegie Hall visit, Tommasini saved his most effusive praise for the guest pianist Lang Lang as soloist in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, and the critic sounded unusually enthusiastic about the orchestra’s commissioned work by David Bruce, “Night Parade,” which the San Diego Symphony premiered here in Copley Symphony Hall the weekend of Oct. 4 – 6. Tommasini noted the rapport between the orchestra players and Music Director Jahja Ling, and he essentially approved of their “technically hard-driving and feisty, if sometimes raucous” performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, also heard here on the season-opening weekend. He dismissed, however, Ling’s direction of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide as as “rushed and coarse,” sniffing, “Maybe it will go over well in China,” alluding to the orchestra’s China tour that follows their New York appearance.
Although the Calder Quartet is based in Los Angeles, this young, highly successful string quartet has significant San Diego ties. They have performed in San Diego County almost every year since they were formed, frequently featured at UC San Diego venues and at La Jolla SummerFest. A founding component of the Carlsbad Music Festival, Calder has appeared every year of the enterprising festival’s 10 years.
While the New Yorker titled its piece “The Calder Quartet Brings L.A. Style to the Met Museum” and took delight name-dropping Calder’s past performance collaborations with rock bands such as Vampire Weekend and the National, it was more excited about the other music surrounding the Bartók quartets at the Met, especially a work by the cutting-edge contemporary Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös (on Oct. 12) and the collaboration with Czech singer Iva Bittová in her own music and in some unusual Janácek songs (Nov. 22). Keeping up the pop connection, Calder will also engage with singer David Longstreth of the band Dirty Projections in his own songs arranged for string quartet (Nov. 1).
Of course, two performance groups among a never-ending parade of performing ensembles coming through New York City are not going to radically alter its musical culture. But Southern California music aficionados can take some satisfaction that these contributions were noted in the media of record.
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Link to New Yorker article: