Carnegie debut a coup for symphony


NEW YORK — Spring for Music, the new festival of North American symphony and chamber orchestras at Carnegie Hall, started on a relatively subdued note on Friday night with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, but caught fire Saturday evening with the Toledo Symphony.

The purpose of the festival is to encourage and reward inventive programming, and to encourage audiences to turn out for it, with inexpensive seating. The seven orchestras participating in the festival were chosen on the strength of the programs they proposed.

Not to take anything away from Orpheus and its excellent outing.

But the Toledo Symphony stormed Carnegie, with 1,400 Ohio citizens in tow (in an audience of more than 2,000), and its program, dwelling on the plight of the individual in an oppressive society, proved a masterstroke.

It opened with Shostakovich's slightly eccentric Symphony No. 6, written in 1939, after a serious strain in the composer's relations with the Soviet regime.

Stefan Sanderling — the orchestra's principal conductor, who described a personal relationship with the work in the program notes — conducted a brilliant performance.

The orchestra may not always have shown the overall sheen of its more famous neighbors in Ohio, and the performance was not flawless, with an occasional false entrance or loose attack.

But the playing pondered deeply or surged with energy, as appropriate to the moment, and on this occasion the orchestra fully measured up to high Carnegie standards.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour — the Tom Stoppard playlet with music by Andre Previn, directed by Cornel Gabara — filled out the program in high style.

Stoppard toys with levels of reality, delusion, and deception.

The three main characters are either father, antagonist, and son, or simply different manifestations of a single person, and the conceit includes an orchestra, real and imagined.

Stoppard does not bring Shostakovich directly into the picture, but Previn does, with uncanny takeoffs on the master's music woven into more generic writing.

The orchestra had less to do here than in the symphony, but it did it equally well, right down to silent miming when the music existed only in a character's head.

In all, the evening was a genuine coup for the orchestra and its gifted conductor.