Intro: Carnegie Hall, please.
Here are your ticket. Enjoy the show.
Jeff Spurgeon: Sounds of life in New York city that we won't take for granted any time. Soon after 18 months of closure from the pandemic Carnegie hall is finally opening its doors again tonight to a fully vaccinated house here on 57th street. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. Joining me tonight is the fully vaccinated John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: It's been a long, weird, year and a half, Jeff. It's the longest as you might expect, the longest closure in Carnegie Hall's long history. And while they have done a pretty good job of mastering online presentations during this closure, there is nothing like being back here in the Isaac Stern Auditorium, the main stage at Carnegie Hall.
Jeff Spurgeon: Lots of electricity in the air, including that, that is bringing you this broadcast. Carnegie Hall live is supported by PWC. PWC is community of solvers, works to bring the best of people and tech together to help build trust and deliver sustained outcomes. It all adds up to the new equation, more at thenewequation.com.
There are lots of people here tonight have been waiting for this moment for a long time, but Carnegie Hall's Executive and Artistic Director, Clive Gillinson, is probably the most relieved that things are beginning again at Carnegie Hall, I had a chance to sit down with Clive a few days ago and asked him about what happened when Carnegie Hall announced this reopening.
Clive Gillinson: When we put tickets on sale, the box office said huge numbers of people were phoning up and just breaking down in tears on the phone. The fact that concerts were coming back again. Uh, people are desperate to get back. After all, arts and culture, and particularly music, are the lifeblood of New York. Why do people live here? Why do people want to work here? Why does everything really coalesce around New York? It's because of the culture.
John Schaefer: And if you're going to reopen Carnegie Hall and make a statement while doing it, there are few better bands to do it with than the Philadelphia Orchestra and their conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Again, there is no official orchestra of Carnegie Hall, but if there were, uh, the Philadelphians would be at the top of the list, they've had a long association with Carnegie Hall. They made their debut in 1902 and they perform around four times a season during normal times here at Carnegie. They were scheduled to do the complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies last season, when, of course it was the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth and that naturally was canceled due to COVID, but they are able to bring it back for the current season.
Jeff Spurgeon: So in fact, there is a Beethoven symphony on tonight's program and other music that uniquely reflects the time that we are living through now. There are pieces by Leonard Bernstein, a piano concerto, the No. 2 Shostakovich with superstar pianist, Yuja Wang. And then those works by contemporary composers, Iman Habibi and Valerie Coleman, which focused respectively on climate change and frontline workers, pieces of music that reflect our current time. And as Clive Gillinson says, staying current means staying alive.
Clive Gillinson: Arts organizations have to be doing things that are relevant to their day relevant to the age they live in. You know, challenges. If one looks at the fragility of democracy all around the world, you know, one looks at climate change. One looks at issues of tribalism around the world and how you'd think as societies became more sophisticated, tribalism would actually reduce, on the contrary, I mean, there are huge issues we all have to address, and we've got to find ways of being part of that conversation.
John Schaefer: Clive Gillinson is the Executive and Artistic Director here at Carnegie Hall. Uh, as we mentioned, there were a couple of new pieces on this program and the composers are here with us in the hall tonight. We'll start with one by Valerie Coleman in a few minutes, but first let me tell you a little bit about Iman Habibi. His piece, "Jeder Baum Spricht", which translates to "every tree speaks" is on the program a little bit later. Habibi is an Iranian Canadian composer and pianist, and he was asked to write this piece by the Philadelphia Orchestra as part of that celebration we were talking about of Beethoven's 250th anniversary and his specific brief was to focus on the fifth and sixth symphonies.
Iman Habibi: I was trying to find the common ground between these two symphonies and also something that I'm passionate about that I can commentate on. And for me, that common ground was nature. And looking through Beethoven's writings, you come across this theme all the time where he says, um, "I'm blissful and happy in the forest in the woods, every tree speaks through you," and he's talking to God. And he goes on to say that, "as I hear the trees speaking to me, it's as though they're saying, 'holy holy.'"
And so he has a divine relationship with trees, and it's also interesting. One person has noted that, uh, he does not say, "you speak through every tree," but that, "every tree speaks through you." He does that reversal. And, um, you can tell that this is a guy that on one hand is so passionate about nature. And on the other hand is living right at the onset or in the middle of the Industrial Revolution.
And, uh, to me, that's a very interesting thing, because to what extent is this passion for nature, also an escape from the industrialization that he was experiencing? And how does that play into our times where we're in the midst of the climate crisis?
Jeff Spurgeon: That's Iman Habibi, whose piece, "Jeder Baum Spricht," "Every Tree Speaks", will be played by the Philadelphia Orchestra a little bit later in this program. And right before Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, which is a companion work of it. The other new piece we'll hear will start this concert by American composer, Valerie Coleman. The Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned this piece and wanted to honor essential workers of the pandemic. The title, "Seven O'Clock Shout" refers to those spontaneous tributes that people performed outside their doors and windows honoring frontline personnel when the pandemic first began.
Valerie Coleman: During the whole time of writing the piece, I was thinking about what way can I really give within the parameters of solidarity. And in strength, you know, this piece is about sharing strength. And this piece is about that primal yell of saying, "we are together, we are alive, we're surviving this thing."
And some of us have not made it. But humanity is that which we have to really embrace our losses and our triumphs together. And so I wanted to write an anthem based upon that.
John Schaefer: Valerie Coleman's piece, "Seven O'Clock Shout" has the distinct honor of reopening live music here at Carnegie Hall coming up in just a few minutes.
You remember those opening days, Jeff, the pandemic and, you know, seven o'clock at night, we'd be hanging out our windows, opening the front door, banging pots and pans.
Jeff Spurgeon: Paying tribute to people and ,making connections with people, just our neighbors, even the ones we didn't know that we couldn't be in touch with at that time.
John Schaefer: And Valerie wanted to reflect the spirit of that time when people were coming together to honor those essential workers and she wanted to do it loudly.
Valerie Coleman: Initially, within the score I had written people bringing pots and pans, but then I thought, okay, the orchestra is going to think I'm absolutely nuts for doing that.
So I basically relied on cow bell, um, just really clanking out just the sound, you know. We need more cowbell in our lives. [laughs] always,
John Schaefer: I love the Saturday night live reference.
Jeff Spurgeon: Perfect.
John Schaefer: Who also wanted to capture the community spirit of that time.
Valerie Coleman: I want to encourage the audience to, to relive that moment of cheering because you know, it, wasn't just about cheering the frontline workers coming back. And that was that in and of itself was powerful. But to look out the windows, your neighbor across the way, doing the same thing after a day of isolation, you know, um, just really brings home this fact of, of community. So yeah, I had to include I had to.
John Schaefer: Valerie Coleman, the composer, uh, the piece, "Seven O'Clock Shout" will open this concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
It's an interesting program, Jeff, a mix of, you know, the, the, the classics.
Jeff Spurgeon: The very traditional and the brand, the brand new.
John Schaefer: Yes. And, uh, this piece really does have pride of place on the program. And we're expecting that the conductor Yannick Nézet. Again, we'll have a couple of words to say about it as well. Uh, as I mentioned, both Valerie Coleman and Iman Habibi are with us in, in the hall.
They're in the audience here at Carnegie Hall tonight and perhaps somewhere the, uh, the spirits of Shostakovich, Bernstein, and Beethoven are, uh, hovering over this, this historic hall on this very historic occasion.
Jeff Spurgeon: We have reached the end of some onstage business that involves speeches by Carnegie Hall officials.
But, uh, now we are seeing the arrival on stage of the concert master. And so, uh, I believe we'll also have a couple of comments from Yannick Nézet-Séguin to introduce the work and perhaps the rest of the concert. But we're about to hear some music from the stage of Carnegie Hall that we haven't heard from more than 18 months.
John Schaefer: And we should say that the stage looks great. Floral arrangements are above the orchestra at the back of the stage.
Jeff Spurgeon: Red, pink, yellow roses, some beautiful green hydrangeas and orchids.
John Schaefer: Okay. You obviously looked a lot more closely than I did.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, I did, but if I'm as good at identifying flowers as I am at describing women's fashion than nothing of what I just said is true, but I think it's correct.
John Schaefer: And outside, you know, the Carnegie Hall swathed in red and blue signage that welcomes music, live music back to New York. It is a very festive occasion. The orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra is onstage. They are now tuned and we are simply awaiting the arrival of their dynamic conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
You can tell by the applause from the sold-out, fully-vaxxed audience here at Carnegie Hall, that he has just taken the stage, signaling the orchestra to stand up, acknowledging the applause.
Jeff Spurgeon: Not a note of music yet, but you hear the emotion of people who are so happy to be back together to experience a concert like this.
Coleman: Seven O'Clock Shout
Jeff Spurgeon: applause] It's probably just enough to say you've heard music from Carnegie Hall live for the first time in more than 18 months. Just now that was the Carnegie Hall premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra of Valerie Coleman's "Seven O'Clock Shout," and that shout from the audience is for her. Ms. Coleman is in the house tonight, standing up, and receiving that ovation from the orchestra.
Maestro Nézet-Séguin, and a full, vaccinated house here at Carnegie Hall for this return concert.
John Schaefer: Great to hear all the hooting and hollering coming from the members of the orchestra written into Valerie Coleman's piece and reminding us of something, most of us shared.
Jeff Spurgeon: That's right.
John Schaefer: You know, there were some really memorable experiences, communal experiences that came out of the early days of the pandemic. And that "Seven O'Clock Shout" was certainly one of them.
Jeff Spurgeon: And people made it, musicians, made it an occasion to perform some reliably night after night sharing things. Well, following the"Seven O'Clock Shout" here at Carnegie Hall, it's the, uh, it's the 7:15 stagehand shuffle a little later than that. But, uh, in fact, uh, large Steinway piano was being moved onto the stage of Carnegie Hall and a few other changes are being made among orchestral players, because we are going to move from a work written in just the last year to one written in the middle of the 20th century.
John Schaefer: And that would be Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto number two and our soloist will be the global superstar, Yuja Wang, the 34-year-old pianist born in Beijing to a family of artists. Her mom was a dancer, her father a percussionist. And she also has a, a geographical, actually multiple geographical connections to, uh, to Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Again, she studied in Canada where he is from, and also at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, whose orchestra, he obviously is leading, uh, and she's been very busy this summer, performing in Europe. Uh, there was a residency at the Lucerne festival in Switzerland as their quote unquote "star artist." And she's just returned to New York after several times with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in Amsterdam.
Jeff Spurgeon: Which was an orchestra that Yannick Nézet-Séguin also worked with for a number of years. So those connections are in lots of places. And Yuja's been busy during the pandemic, as you said, John, and she also has a big series of concerts uh, this season at Carnegie Hall, she's, uh, going to be working with, uh, with a great violinist with whom she's formed a marvelous partnership.
John Schaefer: Leonidas Kavakos.
Jeff Spurgeon: And is doing a big recital tour with him, uh, elsewhere as well.
John Schaefer: We will be right back in these seats just off of the stage for one of those events.
Jeff Spurgeon: So we're looking forward to that a great deal.
John Schaefer: Now, you know, this Shostakovich piano concerto was such an interesting piece because we know Shostakovich as a composer of very sardonic at times, outright sarcastic music.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yes.
John Schaefer: And it's so interesting how he could use that language and by tweaking it just a bit, make something that was genuinely fun and genial. I mean, he wrote this piece for his son, Maxim.
Jeff Spurgeon: It is, it is, it is exactly that. It's a, it's a really wonderfully congenial piece and filled with little treats and delights and the middle movement with a really wonderful tender and expressive melody.
Um, I am reminded frankly, of the Ravel piano concerto by this, very sparkling movements on two sides and a really magical melody in the middle. There are other works to compare it to, but it is, it's an absolutely gorgeous work and we have an absolutely sparkling player to bring it to life. I don't imagine this will be a particularly leisurely reading of this piano concerto knowing Yuja Wang's abilities.
John Schaefer: Yeah. Uh, Shostakovich, the elder Shostakovich, Dmitri the composer, wrote this piece in 1957 as a birthday present for his son Maxine, but it also turned into kind of like a graduation present.
Jeff Spurgeon: Right.
John Schaefer: It was a, the piece that Maxim performed, uh, at his graduation from the Moscow conservatory and, and, you know, it's, it's just, uh, it's so much fun to hear that the finale of this piece, I never studied classical piano, but I do recognize some of those finger exercises.
Jeff Spurgeon: There's some Hanon references.
John Schaefer: The bane of many, a piano students existence. And, and, and so some of you may get a little cringy feeling during the, uh, the final movement.
Jeff Spurgeon: All of those hours with, well, for me, it was the Schirmer Edition so I see that yellow paper, that yellow cover and those pages and pages of finger exercises inside this concerto is also even gone, it's gone another generation because Shostakovich's grandson has recorded it too. So it's gone. Um, yet another generation.
The grandson of Dmitri Shostakovich, is, named. Dmitri Shostakovich.
John Schaefer: So Maxim is still with us, by the way. Uh, he had for a while defected to the West, and then after the fall of the Soviet union, moved back to Russia and still lives and works there.
And as you say, his son Dimitri, now a fine musician himself. So yeah. Runs in the family obviously.
Jeff Spurgeon: And it's a wonderful time to, uh, it's a wonderful, uh, mood piece for the mood tonight because we don't need the sardonic, particularly tonight. We need the celebratory and the festive. And this is absolutely that work.
And yet the extraordinary thing about this piece is you would not mistake it for anybody else. It is clearly Shostakovich. The, those kind of wayward melodies that he specialized in are very much in evidence, especially in the first movement. It's just I don't know how they're pronounced differently. I guess, you know, you can say the same sentence, two different ways in one way. It's very friendly. And the other way, it's exactly the opposite. Shostakovich had a real gift for doing that with his melodies.
And it's wonderful to take the emphasis away from those darker aspects and more mysterious and frankly uncertain aspects of Shostakovich's work. And so, uh, John Schaefer and Jeff Spurgeon along with a great number of Carnegie Hall staff and some people from the Philadelphia Orchestra are just backstage now.
And there's Yuja Wang. Nice big back stretch it she just gave herself a sip of water and, and we're just waiting for that stage door to open. And it's just about two. And then we'll get a major treat on this return concert to Carnegie Hall after something like what did Clive say? 572 days without a sound.
John Schaefer: But who's counting?
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, Clive was and a lot of music lovers were too.
And once again, an astonishing, wonderful ovation for a great star artist, Yuja Wang, on stage now with the Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the podium for Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 from Carnegie Hall Live.
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 2
John Schaefer: Pianist Yuja Wang and conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Philadelphia Orchestra, performing Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 live on stage at Carnegie Hall to the delight of this sold-out, fully-vaccinated audience. And on this rare occasion, the reopening of Carnegie Hall after 18 months, you've just heard another rare occasion, Dmitri Shostakovich in a good mood.
Jeff Spurgeon: [Laughs] I guess that's right. Uh, and, uh, and, a ripping performance. They all just tossed it off. Uh, just in that thrilling way that you want from a piece like this, that so befits a night like this. The longest time Carnegie Hall's ever been closed. Longer than during World War II, World War I, or the 1918 pandemic.
Cheers rising for Yuja Wang back on stage now, after coming back just for a quick refresher and a nice salute from Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the two hand in hand. And a great big cheer for Yuja Wang and a great big bouquet of flowers. I am unable to identify them. I'm disappointed. I know, I know. I set myself up terribly earlier, earlier. I really did.
John Schaefer: Yeah. The the rabble have been roused. The, the audience having a grand old time applauding between movements. No one shushed them. They laughed good-naturedly at themselves while , Yannick Nézet-Séguin, waited for them before moving onto the second movement.
Jeff Spurgeon: This is all the delight that people are feeling. It's a sold-out house at Carnegie Hall, and people are absolutely thrilled to be here tonight to hear this music. And so, uh, with the conclusion of the piano concerto, now a big stage change underway. And so as the piano was moved on a little bit earlier, now the stage hands are going to gather and take the piano off, uh, with the very beautiful, I'm sure that's a brand new harp, somehow a new concert harp that just got moved through here as well. They had to get the heart back on stage, the piano off stage. And it's all happened. So now they're, they're just going to be setting up, uh, things for our next works.
John Schaefer: You know, and, and the crew here, uh, I mean, it's a well-oiled machine at the best of times, and it has not been the best of times in the last year and a half, but everything is moving along very smoothly.
And this has been my experience as well. Jeff, I don't know about you, but you know, coming back here, it feels like you're stepping back. You're slipping on a comfortable old pair of shoes.
Jeff Spurgeon: The people at Carnegie have worked very hard. In fact, they had a practice concert last week. I believe it was a week ago today.
Um, uh, the great musician, Chris Thile came and, uh, they had some audience here and the purpose of the concert was really to test the new way of getting people into the hall. Um, those who came to Carnegie here tonight, saw a large number of staff out front, some special stanchions set up in front of the main entrance, um, and a large crew of people in Carnegie Hall masks and Carnegie Hall red hats, and those were people checking vaccination cards and IDs. Everybody had to show ID and proof of vaccine vaccination before they came in the hall. That's what, that was the purpose of that rehearsal last week. And by all evidences seemed to work just fine tonight.
John Schaefer: Yeah. Um, and I mean, Chris Thile a remarkable musician, mandolin, virtuoso, terrific, a consummate showman and a public radio favorite as the, uh, the host of the show, Live From Here for several years.
Jeff Spurgeon: So, and, uh, when I spoke to Clive Gillinson the executive, executive and artistic director, he said that Chris had just the right mood for that practice concert and for the staff, a sense of real joy and, and in a way real gratitude at being able to come back and I think that we're all feeling that you can. I hope you can sense it in this broadcast because we can sure feel it right here backstage.
John Schaefer: I mean, it's, it's almost like, you know, coming back from the longest weirdest worst vacation ever.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, and, uh, and yet it wasn't a vacation too, because Carnegie Hall was very busy during the pandemic.
John Schaefer: Absolutely.
Jeff Spurgeon: You did a number of events for Carnegie Hall too.
John Schaefer: They did a series called, Live with Carnegie Hall and, uh, yeah. Um, we, we did one with the incredible cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, who was playing all of the Bach suites from home early in the pandemic. Uh, we did another one with the, the terrific, uh, West African singer, Angélique Kidjo, who is a global superstar in her own right. And, uh, one with the, the, the wonderful American singer, song writer, Rosanne Cash. So, you know, Carnegie Hall cast a very wide net in terms of who they were presenting. And, you know, bringing all of these people to as many listeners and viewers as possible. This was all done on zoom. You know, where we have lived much of our lives in the past year and a half.
Jeff Spurgeon: And yet Carnegie was also active in the city. They did a number of live concerts as they are accustomed to doing at this time. And they also moved all of the work of the Weill Music Institute, which is the education arm of Carnegie Hall, they moved all of those efforts online too. So, um, there might not have been any sound from the stages of Carnegie Hall, but to say that Carnegie Hall was silent during the pandemic is really not at all the case. The hall was active and busy and working very hard, keeping track as all organizations have been on vaccination protocols and figuring out how to get people back to doing what they wanted to do, which is what they've done tonight. Show up to hear a great orchestra.
John Schaefer: The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin again conducting, and we are now about to hear them perform the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, uh, an American classic. And although Candide itself is an operetta was charitably mixed, this is a classic.
Bernstein: Overture to Candide
Jeff Spurgeon: Familiar music and a delight to the audience here at Carnegie Hall tonight, the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. And Leonard Bernstein's overture to, well, he called it eventually an operetta, Candide. Have you ever read the Voltaire? Have you read the Voltaire? No, I have not. It's an easy book to read. You can read it in the afternoon and it's wonderful because it will give you nightmares for weeks.
John Schaefer: Sold.
Jeff Spurgeon: Best of all possible worlds. My, and we're here at Carnegie Hall tonight with the Philadelphia Orchestra and maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin for a, a back, back to work concert. Carnegie Hall is back to work tonight.
John Schaefer: Yeah and it's working well. And it's time for us to remind you that this is listener-supported Classical New York 105.9 FM and HD WQXR Newark and 90.3 FM WQXW Ossining.
Jeff Spurgeon: Carnegie Hall Live is supported by PWC. PWC is community of solvers, works to bring the best of people and tech together to help build trust and deliver sustained outcomes. It all adds up to the new equation, more at thenewequation.com.
John Schaefer: So the next work is another one of the newer pieces on the program tonight. And once again, the composer, Iman Habibi, is here in, in the, in the house at Carnegie Hall with us. Um, he is from Iran originally, now based in Canada. And we met him at the beginning of the program. And as he told us, then his piece called "Jeder Baum Spricht" or "Every Tree Speaks," is a comment on climate change. He was asked by the Philadelphia Orchestra to write a companion piece to Beethoven's fifth symphony, which we'll hear in theory without any pause. After, after Habibi's were, although this audience has already shown, they're not here to sit on their hands.
So we'll see what. Uh, so it was to be a response to Beethoven's fifth symphony and his sixth symphony. And he spoke to us last week about preparing this work.
Iman Habibi: I had to study those symphonies before I wrote my piece. Obviously, I'm writing in dialogue with them so I wanted to get to know them as intimately as I could. And I'm also writing with the exact same instrumentation as Beethoven's fifth symphony. So this is like having a masterclass with Beethoven on the exact same, uh, kind of tools that were available to him. So there are elements from his music peppered throughout my piece, for sure. But as much as I can, I wanted it to be my piece.
John Schaefer: And when, uh, when Iman Habibi says the same tools as Beethoven, he is employing the same orchestration, which is why we can in theory, go from his piece directly into Beethoven's fifth symphony. Very interesting talking to him that he sort of has this vision of Beethoven as a proto climate change activist, you know, even at his early date, you know, in the early 1800s, he was already thinking about nature under attack. And of course that's evident celebration of nature in the sixth symphony, not as evident in the fifth, but Iman Habibi very clear in his own mind about how that works in Beethoven's music.
Jeff Spurgeon: He finds those themes there and now here comes Yannick Nézet-Séguin to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra and this performance of "Jeder Baum Spricht, Every Tree Speaks."
He'll speak to you first, Yannick.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: We missed you. We couldn't be more grateful to be here. It's such a huge honor for the Philadelphia Orchestra and myself to reopen Carnegie Hall after this time. And thank you Clive, for your confidence. Thank you, Robert. Thank you every patron here, everyone in New York. We feel a special bond with this place and we are thrilled also to come back several times this season to continue our journey that's going to start today with this Beethoven symphony.
But before - maybe a few words on the next piece, "Jeder Baum Spricht," Every Tree Speaks, roughly translated. Um, Iman Habibi, like Valerie Coleman, two geniuses of our time are here tonight. And what I want to say is simply that we lost many things in the last 18 months. We especially lost lives. We lost people close to us, dear to us. We lost also over the course of these months, some sense sometimes temporarily or permanently, some sense of where we are, where we come from, where we're going. But what we gained, I hope is a raised awareness of how art can be a key in changing our world.
I know we've been saying this so often, it's the saying that we heard and we said many times before, but I believe that what we just went through made it even more important, urgent, affirmative that through art, we can change and we need to change our art form as well. We can still play Beethoven, but we must play again, even more, Habibi and Valerie Coleman. We must represent on our stage everything that the world has to offer everything that every community has to offer.
And it's a commitment that I have that we have at the Philadelphia Orchestra. And there's this piece by Iman Habibi was commissioned by us before the pandemic. And it's a piece because it speaks about the trees. It's a piece about the connection between Beethoven and his worship of nature and how this reflects in today's world in the climate change.
And we played that piece, just that the, as the very last piece, the combo actually, Habibi Beethoven Five, was the last thing we played before the pandemic. How relevant that this is also what we're presenting back from it because we, of course, as society as a world, as a universe, had to reflect on this during the past year and a half.
And I believe that the music of Beethoven, not only does it reflect the struggle of our times, it's still relevant also as is obviously Iman's piece, but also in both pieces, there is a call for hope. There's a call for serenity, for unity, because all of these things we can't achieve if we're not united, unified as a world, as citizens of the world, this is I think personally, the overall message from Beethoven.
And I'm sure this is the message from Iman as well. And now that we've been deprived from this, circulation of energy as a whole, as a group coming together, feeling together, receiving the music and us, giving you back all the energy that you'll give us. Maybe classical music concerts are one of the things that can symbolize even more in 2021 and going forward, how we can all come together in the same purpose and try in our own way to change the world.
Thank you for being here. Have a great concert.
Habibi: Jeder Baum Spricht, Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (played without a break)
Jeff Spurgeon: One of the most iconic works in classical music, used to bring Carnegie Hall back to life after more than 18 months of pandemic shutdown, the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Beethoven's Symphony No.5. You've just heard it live at the reopening concert from Carnegie Hall, live.
Backstage I'm Jeff Spurgeon, John Schaefer's alongside. That was a great ride. Wasn't it?
John Schaefer: That and a great ride is a good way of describing it because this piece, this performance moved along at a pretty good clip. And let's not forget the other piece that led into the Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven by Iman Habibi, his piece called "Jeder Baum Spricht, Every Tree Speaks," a work commissioned by this orchestra specifically to respond to the music of Beethoven's fifth and sixth symphonies. And, um, maestro Nézet-Séguin did not give the audience a chance to get in there and applaud Habibi's piece.
Jeff Spurgeon: Um, it was, I thought it was a wonderful juxtaposition that Habibi started down low, and I felt like we were in the roots of the trees. And by the end of it, we were seeing that forest canopy and then the orchestra just tore into that, that, uh, great four note motif.
John Schaefer: Well, and you know, the ending of the fifth symphony is such a celebratory piece. You know, it's just the perfect way to leave it on an occasion like this. Whereas you say we are celebrating something other than just another season beginning. This is like a rebirth of live music here at Carnegie Hall after what has been its longest closure in its long and storied history. So kudos to everybody involved in bringing this show to fruition. Um, that program has been remarkable. The, the new works by Valerie Coleman, uh, dedicated to frontline workers to Iman Habibi, uh, dedicated to climate change. So pieces that are of our time, along with timeless works by Beethoven, Bernstein, and Shostakovich.
Jeff Spurgeon: And the Beethoven and the Shostakovitch are previews of the coming season to Carnegie Hall for the Philadelphia Orchestra will be bringing to Carnegie all of the Beethoven symphonies to perform the cycle that was to have happened in Beethoven's 250th anniversary year that prevented by the pandemic and also the performance by Yuja Wang and the Shostakovich uh, Concerto No. 2, she is one of the featured artists this year at Carnegie Hall. So a great deal was said overtly and subtly in the program tonight. This was the 329th performance of the Symphony No. 5 at Carnegie Hall.
John Schaefer: Interesting article in tonight's program about the five most played symphonies in Carnegie Hall history.
Jeff Spurgeon: This is not number one.
John Schaefer: It is not, it is number two,
Jeff Spurgeon: Right?
John Schaefer: It tries harder. Um, number one, of course, not of course, but number one is the Brahms Symphony No. 1, the most performed symphony here at Carnegie Hall, but Beethoven's fifth, uh, is the second most.
Jeff Spurgeon: We should say that absolutely the audience at Carnegie Hall was on its feet to salute the musicians at the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and, and, um, it is also a recognition of the pleasure that we are enjoying in being together, making music together, sharing the experience of hearing the music together. And as Yannick said, in some of his remarks, the energy that comes from the orchestra to the audience and the energy that is returned from the audience to the performers.
John Schaefer: And, and the hope that that energy can be channeled to make a better world, which is what he was saying before introducing Iman Habibi's piece.
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I'm John Schaefer along with Jeff Spurgeon, and joining us at the microphone, maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Congratulations, well done.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: Thank you so much. Thank you.
John Schaefer: I think Jeff and I probably could ask a number of questions, but number one, I believe in both of our minds is you cut a dashing figure out there on stage tonight.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: You know, a big occasion, you know, got to bring your A game, you know.
John Schaefer: Very festive pants.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: You know, that's what I, exactly what I thought. I mean, first, um, for my Carnegie Hall debut or close to my debut, at least in my initial season here. Uh, there's a story that I forgot my, um, my concert attire back in Philly. So I could pull anything I could. And I had this blue velvet dinner jacket, which in the end I wore. And from that moment on, I just, every time I step on the stage, like, I need to find something, you know. And for this occasion, oh my goodness.
Jeff Spurgeon: I'm so glad too, that, uh, that John and I checked before, because we have those same pants and it would have just been awful. It would have been awkward.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: But let's make it the costume, the official costumer of Carnegie.
Jeff Spurgeon: I want to ask you about, uh, the orchestra coming back to life, because during the pandemic, you expanded your career a little bit in lots of people's minds, because you played the piano, a great deal and produced a great album with, uh, with Joyce DiDonato new Schubert cycle.
Um, did some wonderful work, uh, in the virtual Met Opera Gala was wonderful. I think people did not know or had forgotten that you were a pianist, but I wanted to know about the orchestra because the players were apart for a while and, and a band that plays together a lot is tight. And when you don't get to play together, so how was that coming back together? Were there sectionals were there, or did it, did it reappear pretty quick?
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: So, so what happened really is I believe that everyone, uh, who was, um, you know, at home, like you just said, uh, had to find something else, I would say. You know, and that's what I encourage students to do. By the way, I encouraged, uh, young people when I did, you know, one of those countless Zooms and conferences and, you know, uh, lectures about and dialogues, I said, find something, find an opportunity to learn a new language or to play the second instrument. And I know many of my musicians in Philly, this is what they did. I have to say, though, that coming back to work, for us we never really stopped.
I'm very proud of what the Philadelphia Orchestra has been able to achieve in their webcast. Of course, I'm not saying it's the same thing, but it kept the group playing enough together so that things were not forgotten. However, the big challenge was to kind of learning back to be close to each other because all of these webcasts were done in distancing with six feet, eight feet, sometimes 10 feet for the flutes. So that I tried to use, you know, I'm, I'm always a half a glass, half-full person. So I tried to imagine this moment as a way to learn even more about our art and learn even more how to be more independent and relate to each other, even if it's not as easy as it was.
And if you had asked me before the pandemic, if I agreed to have an orchestra distance, I would have said never, never, that won't work. But you know, artists and the great musicians like in the field of your orchestra are very resilient people. So, you know, they, they adapt to the different circumstances.
So we didn't do sectionals. We just went right in and the magic and the eagerness and the enthusiasm of playing together I think did the rest of the job. But it's, you know, I don't want to underestimate what it takes as a great talent like these musicians have.
Jeff Spurgeon: I, uh, but I, but I think that we do have to recognize that it is an amazing thing that you've come back and so powerfully and fabulously. And I didn't realize you've been with this orchestra. This is your tenth season.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: Yes.
Jeff Spurgeon: With Philadelphia.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: Absolutely.
Jeff Spurgeon: Gone like that.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: It's true. I mean, uh, that I, I realized this also just recently that it has already been 10 years. I feel it's only the beginning of the journey still. So, um, you know, I unfortunately for you, I think you're going to have to talk to me a few more years.
John Schaefer: Well, we will, we will be back here with you later in this cycle of Beethoven symphonies. Will each piece be accompanied by a contemporary work?
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: So each program will be. So what we did is to imagine that there was one, uh, one symphony per program, because I, I also had some festival programming not to do necessarily in chronological order. And we discussed this with Clive and having more, what interests me is the clashes. Um, the contrasts, I would say, you know, between the symphonies and where Beethoven really thought he was leading us somewhere and then just changes. And we know that he was composing very often two symphonies at the same time. So that's what we imagined. And then we commissioned those pieces specifically to say, look, how do you relate to Beethoven? What is it telling you, you know, as a young composer and with which symphony would you like to be paired? So that it's, uh, a, so they're not necessarily all segue attaca. Like we did this one, but there's always a commentary about a specific symphony, but it's not nine different pieces. It's actually four different.
John Schaefer: Okay.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, it was a wonderful experience to have that Habibi rise up out of the bottom of the orchestra, take us to the top and then leap into that Beethoven. It was a wonderful.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: Did you feel, you know, we feel when we played on stage, it's, it's demanding that we feel almost like in an instant there's this travel back in time. Um, but in such a way that the speed takes us almost makes us dizzy. And I believe that one key word would Beethoven is shock. He was always after the surprise, he didn't want his listeners at the time were not comfortable. And we need to find ways nowadays to, um, generate that same discomfort. Even though we know these symphonies by heart.
Jeff Spurgeon: In other ways to do that is to play them at Beethoven's metronome markings, which you did. I think you did. I didn't check, but my goodness.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: It's my guide. It's on my guideline and I'm not one of those saying, "oh, it's this theory," you know, I think we can make excuses because we feel they're too fast and too difficult, but I believe we should trust them at least for the proportions of it. And yes, I. I think we played it even faster in Philadelphia. We accommodated the Carnegie Hall, um, uh, acoustics today.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, it was, it was a thrilling, it was a thrilling performance. And thank you for it. And you mentioned Clive and Clive Gillinson, the Artistic and Executive Director of Carnegie Hall, is with us too.
Congratulations on your reopening night. I think we can say that you've had quite a success.
Clive Gillinson: They did. I mean, they were fantastic. And I think what Yannik was talking about, about you know, ensemble, you know, the questions you were asking, one would never know this orchestra had not been playing together for the last year and a half. I mean, it was absolutely as if it was, you know, just one musician. Um, so I mean, I think what you've done or what they've done, or, I mean the way people listen, but I, my guess would be that playing separately and the way they have probably makes everybody listen harder.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: That's what I think too. And I think we were discovering this now. It feels that their circumstances are so much easier. And therefore, instead of, for example, sharing, stopping to share, sharing a stand for the strings, if you spend your life sharing as you know, well, what it is, you know, you feel you're sharing a stand with one player. For some people it makes them stop listening to anything beyond that other player, for example. So to have to be in separate stands for a long time, makes, uh, an ear even more, um, searching for the, the, the ensemble of, uh, of, of the musicians.
John Schaefer: Yannick is referring to Clive's early days as a cellist in the London Symphony Orchestra.
Clive Gillinson: That's right. It's a lifetime ago, except I'd picked up a cello and I've been practicing during COVID, but at least Yannick can relax. I'm not going to apply for a job. I didn't want to ruin the orchestra.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, the reports that we are hearing, I was going to ask you for yours on the, uh, on the Carnegie Hall ensemble, it seems like everything came together tonight, the procedures for getting people in, uh, into their seats, checking vaccinations and IDs, which we saw your crew out early, uh, before the concert getting ready, feels like that's off to a good start, this new way of doing things.
Clive Gillinson: It really worked. And we did a rehearsal, um, a couple of weeks ago where Chris Thile came in and did a concert. And apart from the fact that half the audience was in tears because they were so moved to be back here. Um, I mean, the fact is all the systems were tested then. So, but I mean, in the end, what matters is the music is back. And I genuinely feel it's as if the heart and the life and the soul of come back to New York. Um, because a city without culture is nothing. And I think tonight symbolized the fact that, you know, this is the beginning of real life again when you can hear music like this.
Jeff Spurgeon: Very exciting.
John Schaefer: We were just so thrilled to be back here and surprised at how natural and how quickly it felt natural for us to be here. I'm hoping the two of you felt a kind of a kindred sensation of coming into something that-
Clive Gillinson: Absolutely. Well, it's one of the things I find odd. I mean, it's always, I feel as though one's almost discovered another, the only element I've probably ever, ever understood of Einstein's theory of relativity, which is the one and a half years seemed to take forever, but now we're back that's somehow-
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: That's so true. And I think that's also a testament a little bit, like you were saying about the orchestra, it's a testament to the strength of the bond between the audience and the hall here between the musicians and, and all of this is of course not to forget what we all had to go through as an institution, as musicians, as an art form, it's horrible.
And we should cherish this and so the fact that it comes this magical moment of reunion, uh, doesn't mean that it's easy. And of course, you know, we should not wish for any other stop like that in our lifetime.
John Schaefer: Well, speaking of stoppages, I it's it's, it is opening night. I'm sure the two of you have other people to meet and greet, and we really appreciate both of you taking time at the end of an extraordinary evening to speak with us.
Jeff Spurgeon: Congratulations and thanks to both of you for, uh, all of that you represent through the orchestra, through the hall. Um, for all of us who love this music and look forward to being here again and to hear, uh, this great orchestra.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin: We missed you too.
Clive Gillinson: I was going to say thank you for sharing this with us, because I mean, to ensure that so many other people can share what we all experience is so important.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, thank you, Clive. Uh, we are, we could not imagine a better partner to share this great work. So thank you so much. Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. We're so grateful for both of them, for being with us tonight as we conclude this first broadcast of a brand new season of concerts presented from Carnegie Hall.
John Schaefer: And I'll thank our WQXR crew. Our engineering team led by Edward Haber with George Wellington, Chase Culpon and Bill Sigmund. Our production team included Eileen Delahunty, Lauren Purcell-Joiner, and Max Fine.
And of course, thanks to Clive Gillinson and the staff here at Carnegie Hall.
I'm John Schaefer.
Jeff Spurgeon: And I'm Jeff Spurgeon. This is listener-supported Classical New York 105.9 FM and HD WQXR Newark and 90.3 FM WQXW Ossining.
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