Tonight was Transcendent Triumph and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 presented at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Manhattan. Conducted by music director David Bernard, this was the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s opening concert of the 2023-24 season.
Intimate and Humanistic Music-Making Experience
This performance of Rachmaninoff’s symphonic masterpiece emerged as an InsideOut ™ immersive experience. Maestro Bernard crafted this venue, seating audience members among the musicians in the orchestra to experience a sonic, intimate, and humanistic music-making experience. This was today’s second performance of the Symphony No. 2. The earlier concert was customized for families and children.
The Ebullient Maestro
We heard a few chuckles as the ebullient maestro encouraged everyone to take a “selfie” with a nearby musician. Each orchestra section was introduced as Bernard explained how the unique sounds of the instruments were produced. Bernard even shared an anecdote about a ’60s rock star who borrowed a lovely theme from the Symphony No. 2, resulting in copyright issues.
Intimate Exposure to Performance Art
Bernard described the benefits of sitting by orchestra musicians in a symphonic concert. He noted that listening while adjacent to the musicians provided a unique and intimate exposure to performance art. Audience members were encouraged to watch the musicians as they listened—this would provide a rich and mesmerizing artistic encounter. As he noted, this venue is “about experiencing the music.”
Before each of the four movements of the Symphony No. 2, Bernard described in detail the exciting features of the music. He also spoke of the Romantic era of music launched by Beethoven that continued through Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.
Deeply Personal Musical Expressions
Next was a description of the symphonic minuet’s historical evolution to what Rachmaninoff presented in his Allegro molto “scherzo” movement. Bernard described Rachmaninoff’s deeply personal musical expressions where he foreshadows the soul’s brooding, melancholy, reflective state. Indeed, Rachmaninoff’s music was the art of expressive appeal through melodic warmth.
In the grandeur of design, Symphony No. 2 stands practically alone, except perhaps for the Scherzo of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.
Multi-Dimensional Musical Products
The Symphony No. 2 opened with perfect security, authentic sweep, validity, and individuality. The audience experienced ultimate, stereophonic, and multi-dimensional musical products as the orchestra advanced. The ensemble masterfully conveyed the work’s appealing, strong Russian qualities, enriched by its suffusion of old forms and highly personal characterizations of the composer’s psyche and imagination.
Listeners relished the profoundly overbearing chords, premonitions of death, or the mememto mori of the scherzo’s conclusion. Whenever carefree, exuberant themes occurred, an inflexible chorus cut in with its gloomy warning.
Memorable Orchestral Apexes
The ensemble honored the work’s lush romanticism, sweeping melodies, and rich orchestrations. The musicians showcased Rachmaninoff’s distinctive use of recurring themes and motifs throughout the four movements. The composer’s memorable orchestral apexes enraptured the audience, including an elaborate journey of development and recapitulation thundering toward the resounding coda in the final Allegro vivace movement.
As Rachmaninoff noted, “I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings…just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.”
Work with Children
Tonight’s concert was suitably billed as a Transcendent Triumph–The Full InsideOut Concerts™ Experience. This performance by David Bernard and Park Avenue Chamber Symphony honored this masterpiece of Russian romantic music with its soaring emotional heights and virtuosic writing. Bernard’s informative introductions and work with children help educate current and future audiences on symphonic music’s beauty, magnificence, and importance.
The evening ended with a delightful reception with refreshments for the audience and orchestra members.
In addition to crisp, precise sectional work, marvelous solos were all around, including the concertmaster violinist, woodwind chairs, and many more. Bernard’s conducting was clear, expressive, compelling, and marvelously understated–there were no dramatic gesticulations of visual melodrama from the conductor’s podium.
Marvelous concerts follow tonight’s season opener, including the InsideOut Nutcracker on December 9, an all-Gershwin concert on February 10 with the Rhapsody in Blue featuring pianist Ted Rosenthal, and the Romanticism of Wagner and Brahms on May 18.
Park Avenue Chamber Symphony
David Bernard, Music Director and Conductor
875 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10065
For tickets and information about the 2023-24 season, go to https://chambersymphony.com/
Today’s performances were at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 West 37th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The American Symphony Orchestra and the Roaring 20s, The American Classical Orchestra presents a Romantic Fantasy, Venice City of Light at St. John the Divine, and The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony performs Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.