Gustavo Dudamel wraps up a Philharmonic audition
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Gustavo Dudamel wraps up a Philharmonic audition
Gustavo Dudamel conducts the New York Philharmonic through works by Schubert, at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan, March 17, 2022. The superstar conductor, a possible successor to the New York Philharmonic’s podium, led a cycle of Robert Schumann’s symphonies and two premieres. Jeenah Moon/The New York Times.



NEW YORK, NY.- If concerts had the “previously on” introductions of television, on Thursday the New York Philharmonic would have recapped last week’s installment of its Robert Schumann symphony cycle: lithe yet energetic, hardly Romantic yet fully alive.

This week we are in the same series but what feels like a new story arc. The First and Second symphonies, on the earlier program, have been followed by readings of the Third and Fourth that, on Thursday at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, were for better and worse grander and more emotive, with swerving contrasts — and a premiere to match by Andreia Pinto Correia.

The symphonies are being presented as a festival called “The Schumann Connection,” led by Gustavo Dudamel, the superstar music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a contender for the podium here in New York when Jaap van Zweden departs in 2024. That series is also an oblique exploration — through two new works by women — of Robert’s relationship with Clara Schumann, his wife, a notable pianist and composer who largely stopped writing after they married.

Clara haunts this festival, and not just in the title of last week’s premiere, Gabriela Ortiz’s “Clara.” Although the series has relegated her music to appearances on chamber programs far from the main stage, she looms over her husband’s major works.

Robert’s Piano Concerto in A minor, played by the Philharmonic in October, bears the mark of her earlier one in the same key. And elements of her concerto subtly inform his Fourth Symphony — in its through-composition and fantasia form, in its Romanze second movement and in a first one characterized by its abandonment of the traditional recapitulation. A more satisfying “Schumann Connection” might have paired these two pieces.

To the Philharmonic’s credit, though, the concerts have featured those premieres, even if the fact that both are based on Clara and Robert sets off a Bechdel test alarm. Pinto Correia’s “Os Pássaros da Noite” (“The Birds of Night”) is inspired by the sadness shared by the couple in their correspondence, and by a letter to a friend in which Robert wrote that “the melancholy birds of night still flit round me from time to time.”

The 15-minute work is the account of one harrowing night, in which strings, droning or in a haze of harmonics, underlie the sorrowful cries of a trumpet. A wearying set of nocturnal episodes, it would be a fitting horror soundtrack, its mood transparent in gestures like upward runs in the winds — a sinister curlicue of moonlit fog — accompanied by matching upward glissandos in the violins. As in any night of sleepless anxiety, the darkness lingers, seemingly interminable, until it doesn’t.

“Os Pássaros da Noite” was a sharp contrast to the preceding symphony: the Third, nicknamed the “Rhenish” for its tonal tributes to the Rhine River — where in 1854, just a few years after it was written, Schumann would attempt suicide. But that gloom is absent from the score’s buoyant, dancing mood, and from Dudamel’s conducting. The heroic opening heralded a propulsive interpretation, guided by hemiola rhythms but emphasized in mighty sforzando accents and thrillingly veering dynamics.




The Philharmonic’s playing was warmest in the ländler-like Scherzo. But its tendency toward excessive expression made for a Feierlich (“solemn”) movement strangely heavy on vibrato. Schumann’s music here is a portrait of the awe-inspiring Cologne Cathedral, with a chorale and orchestration that, if articulated correctly, closely resembles the sound of an organ. A little of that came through, but for the most part this was a scene with more emotion than solemnity.

The Fourth Symphony, in D minor, was composed nearly a decade earlier, in a wave of productivity that included Schumann’s First; but he withdrew it, later revisiting it and premiering the revision in 1853. This version had more darkness and heft, but retained the elegance of the earlier one, which the scholar John Daverio captures in his claim that “Beethoven may have been primarily a ‘dramatist’ and Schubert a ‘lyricist’; Schumann straddles both categories by treating his fundamentally lyric themes with a dramatic urgency.”

Dudamel sensitively wove that belief throughout, with strands of melody emerging from the opening chord that were by turns fiery and gentle — especially in the second movement’s flowing violin solo from the Philharmonic’s concertmaster, Frank Huang. In its extremity, its grand finale, this was Schumann at his most Romantic of the cycle.

When “The Schumann Connection” concludes Sunday, so will a long stretch of programs led by guest conductors, many of whom are being watched as potential successors to van Zweden. Of them, there is immense promise in Dudamel — charismatic, eager to lead new works and, crucially, followed by the Philharmonic players with apparent ease.

In terms of programming, he fared better than two other contenders, Susanna Mälkki and Santtu-Matias Rouvali, who have triumphed with the Philharmonic in the past but in recent months had mixed outings in repertory of mixed quality. It’s difficult to avoid imagining what impression they would have made with a platform like Dudamel’s festival.

Any of the three, though, would be a welcome change at the Philharmonic. And they are just a selection of the talent that has passed through this season. It’s still far too early to guess who the orchestra’s next music director will be. But regardless, its future seems one worth looking forward to.



New York Philharmonic\
This program repeats through Sunday at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Manhattan; nyphil.org.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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