FRED PLOTKIN is one of America’s foremost experts on opera and has distinguished himself in many fields as a writer, speaker, consultant and as a compelling teacher. He is an expert on everything Italian, the person other so-called Italy experts turn to for definitive information. Fred discovered the concept of "The Renaissance Man" as a small child and has devoted himself to pursuing that ideal as the central role of his life. In a “Public Lives” profile in The New York Times on August 30, 2002, Plotkin was described as "one of those New York word-of-mouth legends, known by the cognoscenti for his renaissance mastery of two seemingly separate disciplines: music and the food of Italy." In the same publication, on May 11, 2006, it was written that "Fred is a New Yorker, but has the soul of an Italian."
Keeping Up With Conductor Gianandrea Noseda
Friday, October 28, 2016 - 10:11 AM
TURIN, Italy—Whenever I travel for work I make a point of checking what is on in the opera houses and the concert halls of the places I will be visiting. Lately, it seems that wherever I go the excellent Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda is there too. In the space of 10 days I will have heard him in Turin, New York and Washington.
Noseda was named the Musical America Conductor of the Year in 2015, and received the same honor in 2016 from the International Opera Awards. His connection to the musicians of the orchestras he leads is palpable and a Noseda performance always feels like a moment of heightened consciousness not only for those making the music but those fortunate to hear it.
I always find myself actively engaged in music Noseda conducts, putting him in a group of conductors such as Abbado, Gergiev, Levine and Solti. This is not simply a question of visceral excitement (although that is there in abundance), but of being in the presence of an artist who loves and respects the composers whose music he learns and takes care to serve their artistry. On more than one occasion I have seen Noseda bend over and kiss the score of a symphony or opera he has just conducted.
On the weekend of Oct. 22-23, Noseda conducted two performances at Turin’s Teatro Regio, where he is music director. First came a concert that included Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and the Symphony No. 2 by Alfredo Casella, who was born in Turin in 1883 and died in Rome in 1947. Like many conductors who feel an affinity with a particular composer (whether famous or overlooked), Noseda has become the leading exponent of the compositions of Casella. In 2013 he conducted the German premiere of this excellent symphony.
I was present at the work’s Italian premiere this week at the Teatro Regio. The symphony was referred to in the program as Mahlerian. It does seem to evoke that spirit without copying the Austrian master. There is superb music here for strings, brass and percussion, though I feel that the wind section was somewhat shortchanged by Casella. Noseda has recorded much of Casella’s music and I hope he will lead live performances of it during his visits to North America.
Noseda and the Teatro Regio have just released a recording of a live performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony (“Resurrection”) that is a splendid blend of excitement, introspection and virtuosic music-making.
The next day brought a performance of La Bohème in a beautiful new production by Àlex Ollé, updated to the 1970s but with all of the opera’s values intact. La Bohème is dear to the Teatro Regio because this is the theater that gave this beloved opera its world premiere in 1896. Noseda led a young and balanced cast in which Puccini’s deceptively complex music was given its full measure. This was story-telling through music of the very highest standards.
At the intermission of La Bohème I saw James Conlon, who has just become principal conductor of the Turin-based Orchestra Nazionale della RAI, the prestigious ensemble dating back to 1931. With Noseda and Conlon at the helm of its major orchestras, Turin has two world-class maestros, something most larger and more fabled musical capitals cannot claim.
Last February, Noseda was named the principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. On Friday (Oct. 28), at David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, Noseda and the LSO will perform the prelude to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and the Ravel piano concerto with Yuja Wang as soloist. This program will be repeated on Saturday (Oct. 29) at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
On Sunday afternoon (Oct. 30), Noseda, the LSO and the London Symphony Chorus return to David Geffen Hall with the Verdi Requiem. The soloists are Erika Grimaldi, Daniela Barcellona, Francesco Meli and Vitalij Kowaljow.
Noseda will become music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington beginning with the 2017-18 season. With them Noseda will lead a complete performance of the ballet music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet on Nov. 3, 4, 5.
It is clever programming that he will be in the nation’s capital just before the election of the next president and then returns Jan. 19-22, the weekend of the inauguration, to conduct the NSO in a concert of American music, including Copland’s Lincoln Portrait narrated by Jessye Norman. Two of the works on that program are dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and two others to John F. Kennedy as the Kennedy Center launches a celebration of its namesake in the year of the centennial of his birth.
On Nov. 17 and 19, he leads the Toronto Symphony in their home theater in a program by Casella, Ravel and Saint-Saëns.
On Nov. 25, 26 and 27, he will lead a program of works by Goffredo Petrassi, Ravel and Beethoven in Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
In December, Noseda will be at the Metropolitan Opera leading rehearsals for a new production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, which opens on New Year’s Eve and runs through Jan. 28. The director is Bartlett Sher and the leads will be sung by Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau, who was the female lead in Les pêcheurs de perles that Noseda conducted last New Year’s Eve at the Met.
How do our greatest musicians manage to learn so much music and give it meaning, and have the stamina and discipline to do what they do? I don’t know, but am pondering the thoughts of H.G. Wells: “We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and a mystery.”