The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony musicians and audience assembled in the concert space at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music for Between Sea and Sky: Debussy’s Painters and Poets. The audience was to enjoy the rare treat of sitting among the orchestra members. Tonight was the second of two concerts of the same theme performed today; the earlier program was specially crafted for an audience with children.
Among the orchestra’s musicians and fellow listeners, I sat in front of the woodwinds in the viola section and directly in front of Conductor David Bernard. This position was ideally situated for a truly immersive, surround-sound orchestral listening experience.
Maestro David Bernard welcomed everyone and explained the concept of the InsideOut concert venue, noting that everyone here “knew all they needed to know to appreciate the concert.” He suggested everyone take a selfie photo with the nearest orchestra member, to which most heartily complied. Bernard
was earnest and heartening as he illustrated the relationships between visual and musical arts and the concomitant interactions of artists and composers of the impressionist era who celebrated movement and style. The Symphony performed the opening of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune to illustrate the impressionist concept of expressing a “moment in time.”
Bernard introduced renowned author and distinguished lecturer Charles Riley, Ph.D., director of the Nassau County Museum of Art, who was to guide the audience through the visual artworks this evening.
Riley delineated relationships between visual art and music, and in the context of tonight’s artistic mélange, composer Claude Debussy’s craft of symbolism and impressionism. He referred to the Paris salons where coteries of intellectuals like Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Henri Matisse met to examine music, visual art, and literature. We learned about the stodgy Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture set in the Salon Carré at the Louvre that rejected the novateur impressionists who ultimately sponsored their own Salon des Refusés in 1863.
Riley described Debussy’s subjects of intellectual veneration like artists Whistler and Turner and poets like Mallarmé. He introduced synesthesia, which describes how visual art evokes musical perceptions and vice versa. Riley projected multiple artworks on a large screen to visualize the parallel chiaroscuros of music and art and the inferences between visual art and tonight’s musical works.
The Symphony began with Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894). Exquisite visual images accompanied the flute’s sublime, soulful cantilena opening, leading into a superb choric radiance of harps, French horns, and strings. Experiencing the ineffable, expressive unfolding of the music while seated among the musicians was, without exaggeration, an exalted, rapturous, and elegiac pluradimensional experience. The blinding radiance and pathos of these moments were to reoccur in the Symphony’s successive musical offerings slated for this evening.
The next work was Debussy’s La Mer (1905), subtitled trois esquisses symphoniques pour orchestra (three sketches for orchestra). The three movements are De l’aube à midi sur la mer (from dawn to noon on the sea), Jeux de vagues (play of the waves), and Dialogue du vent et de la mer (dialogue between wind and waves). We learned of Debussy’s predilection for Hokusai’s The Great Wave of Kanaga.
Tonight’s denouement was an orchestral transcription of Debussy’s piano work Claire de Lune (1905). To the audience’s delight, a troupe of fabulous dancers from the Eglevsky Ballet performed their interpretation of movement to the music. The audience’s final intellectual and emotional treat was a rarified, exquisite joining and impassioned luminosity of visual art, music, and dance, expressing effusive and dazzling joie de vivre.
Maestro Bernard’s conducting was refined, expressive, discreet, and apposite for the musical poetry he drew from the musicians. The orchestra responded with aplomb and delivered the ravishing expression required for interpreting and performing Debussy’s poetic, musical exegesis. The sui generis aural experience of sitting among and hearing accomplished soloists, instrumental sections, sonority, and the delicate shadings of tonal colors produced was glorious, tingling, and prodigious.
Between Sea and Sky: Debussy’s Painters and Poets
The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony is a New York City musical treasure for your exploration and enjoyment. The May 20, 2023 concert duo of a Family InsideOut Concert experience with Instrument Zoo is entitled Tales and Transformations. The program will feature Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 and Peter and the Wolf. For information, go to: https://chambersymphony.com/upcomingconcerts
Park Avenue Chamber Symphony
David Bernard, Music Director
875 5th Ave, New York, NY 10065
For upcoming concerts go to: https://chambersymphony.com/
Performances take place at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 West 37th Street, between 9th and 10th avenues
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, AUDIENCE, The American Symphony Orchestra at Bryant Park, A Midsummer’s Night Dream at The Players, and the Townhouse Diner in Murray Hill.