Intro: Carnegie Hall, please.
Here are your ticket. Enjoy the show.
Jeff Spurgeon: Tonight, this Carnegie Hall Live concert is a welcoming home of sorts. The New York Philharmonic had its home here at Carnegie Hall for about 70 years until they moved to Lincoln Center in 1962. And as their current home David Geffen Hall is under renovation, they have several more concerts planned at this historic venue this season.
And we're glad you're here for this concert tonight. I'm Jeff Spurgeon, beside me, my colleague, John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: And Jeff, the New York Phil didn't just, uh, walk in here with any old program. It's a pretty exciting collection of pieces because we have three Carnegie Hall debuts tonight. First and foremost, the Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki.
She's playing here for the first time, conducting the New York Philharmonic, and she'll be leading one of the great, uh, Finnish pieces, the Sibelius Symphony No. 5, but the other two works on the program are also Carnegie Hall debutantes: the saxophone concerto by John Adams and the opening piece called, "An American Port of Call" by Adolphus Hailstork.
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.
So tonight's conductor, Susanna Mälkki. She is chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, principal guest conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And she's conducted Philadelphia and Cleveland and Chicago and Boston and London and Munich and Vienna and Berlin.
John Schaefer: Right.
Jeff Spurgeon: And she's a major force.
John Schaefer: And in the opera world as well, where she has been a real champion of the contemporary Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho, whose work bringing some of that to, uh, to New York in the United States. And while she has performed with the New York Philharmonic before, this is her first time conducting in the big hall here at Carnegie. And she told us about this milestone in her career.
Susanna Mälkki: This is, um, as a very, very precious and important moment. And, and of course, I couldn't imagine a more beautiful opportunity than having my Carnegie debut with the New York Philharmonic. I mean, I'm extremely honored and it's, it's wonderful. And of course, it's also very special now, after all these months of ifs and buts, it feels like a really, really great privilege to be making music and to be in the hall, and it's magical, you know, it's a mythical venue and I'm extremely honored to be allowed in.
John Schaefer: That's Susanna Mälkki. Not her first time as we said, with the New York Philharmonic. And so we asked her what comes to mind when she sees the New York Phil pop-up on her schedule.
Susanna Mälkki: A big smile comes on my face immediately. I think the orchestra is fantastic. You know, the players are just amazing and, and so skilled and their energy is unlike anything. I love the, the edge and the power and, and also, you know, the subtlety. It's really a brilliant orchestra and I've always had a really great time and beautiful experiences with them. So I'm, I really, I cherish every opportunity. I have to make music with this orchestra. They're they're wonderful.
John Schaefer: Well, Jeff. There has been a lot of talk, uh, in the classical music world in the New York Times recently about Susanna Mälkki and the soon to be open music directorship of this orchestra, the New York Phil.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, she's been on, she's been on the radar of lots of orchestra search committees in lots of places. And there's just no question that she's a top candidate for this job. Now in saying that we can't say, because we don't know if the Philharmonic is actually interested or if she's actually interested, but the word is out certainly in the world. She is absolutely a star in the field of conducting. And, uh, so yeah, there's that atmosphere in this concert as well.
John Schaefer: And, and that conductor and this orchestra have, have made beautiful music together. As the saying goes in the past. You don't need to be the music director of the New York Phil to have that opportunity. Uh, it remains to be seen. We will have a chance to speak with Deborah Borda, the executive director of the New York Philharmonic at intermission.
I'm sure she won't tell us anything.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yeah. But we'll get to watch her side step and that can be fun too.
John Schaefer: Right.
Jeff Spurgeon: All right. We have a couple of other works on this program. The second piece on this program brings in our special guest artist tonight, and that is the multitalented Branford Marsalis, a saxophonist at home in both the worlds of jazz and classical music. We had a chance to talk to him right after a rehearsal with the orchestra yesterday. And he told us about the difference between playing with an orchestra as opposed to a small group that he runs.
Branford Marsalis: It's more of a challenge for me and more thrilling for me when I have to integrate myself with an entire group of musicians, rather than, "okay I've learned how to play this one way and follow me, everybody." We had a nice little debate about the tempo of the second movement and where it should be and where it can be and where it can't be. Uh, I dig that and I'm cool with it. I don't practice a tempo and say, "well, whatever we do, it has to be at this tempo because this is where I excel."
I want to play it wherever the group can play it so that we can all make music and sound good together or not sound good together. But I don't want a situation where I sound great and it's like a Mel Brooks movie behind me with things falling all over the place cause the tempos are too fast for an orchestra, too slow for an orchestra. So it's up to me as a soloist to like, step up my game and adjust to where everyone else is.
John Schaefer: That is Branford Marsalis. I'm, I like Mel Brooks movies as much as the next guy, but I don't think we want to see one breaking out behind him during the saxophone concerto by John Adams. That's a, that's coming up a little bit later on in this broadcast from Carnegie Hall.
The first piece though, is "An American Port of Call." It's by composer, Adolphus Hailstork. Hailstork was born and grew up in upstate New York, but he's lived a long time in Virginia and "An American Port of Call" specifically refers to that place, Norfolk, Virginia, uh, that he has spent a lot of time in. And Hailstork has written a couple of pieces that draw on his own African American heritage, but he's also written, Jeff, a lot of landscape pieces about, I mean, he actually has a piece called an "American Lens."
Jeff Spurgeon: So, and this is that as well. It's just a little bit more specific and what's really wonderful about this performance too. It's the first time this work has been played in Carnegie Hall, as you mentioned earlier, and also Adolphus Hailstork is here tonight at Carnegie. Came to a rehearsal of the work earlier this week. And, uh, Susanna Mälkki told us about that experience.
Susanna Mälkki: I'm so pleased that this piece was brought into my attention because I didn't know it from before. And of course, it's a, it's already a, an American classic. He's also so generous when I was asking, you know, "do you want me to take more time or less time?" And he, he said, "you do, as you feel." He's really enjoying having the input of the performer. And, and of course, we're both extremely happy to do this with the orchestra, as we know, they're, they're amazing. And this kind of style is just perfect. It's a fantastic piece.
Jeff Spurgeon: Susanna Mälkki on the work that is going to open this concert by the New York Philharmonic tonight from Carnegie Hall, "An American Port of Call" by Adolphus Hailstork, who, uh, also wrote some words a few years ago about this piece. It's actually from the mid 1980s, this work. He describes this as a concert overture in sonata-allegro form that captures the strident and occasionally tender and even mysterious energy of a busy American port city. "The great port of Norfolk, Virginia, where I live," was the direct inspiration. So that's what we have to look forward to.
And I, and I, one of the things I love about both the Hailstork and the John Adams saxophone concerto, is that you don't need a long runway for these pieces. They both just take right off. Now the Sibelius will be in contrast to them, but both of these pieces are going to, they're just lights up.
John Schaefer: Zero to 60.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yeah, that's right. The action just goes right forward.
John Schaefer: It's impressive to see what's out on state. I mean the New York Philharmonic is a big band, but the percussion section for Adolphus Hailstork's piece is enormous. I mean, everything from tam-tams to a whip, you know, so there's lots of, there's lots of banging and crashing going on in this port city that he's depicting in this piece.
Jeff Spurgeon: It's a, it's a reasonable depiction of all of that activity. And I love that Hailstork talks about, about some mysterious energy there too. Um, well, we'll talk about the piece a little more after we hear it, but I think it's just as has been mentioned before by others, it's a, it's a good opening number for a concert. Grabs you right away.
John Schaefer: And as he said, it is a concert overture. So it was made for this express purpose. John Adams' most famous piece, his most played piece I should say, is also a concert overture, A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, it's the name of the piece and it's just about as good a description of the piece as you could possibly ask for, it tells you exactly what you're going to get.
We're not getting that piece tonight. We will get his saxophone concerto with Branford Marsalis as the soloist. That'll be the second piece in the first half of the show.
Jeff Spurgeon: And then in contrast to those works, a broad, grand, rich, deep landscape of Jean Sibelius in, well, some people say it's his best symphony, is it your favorite?
John Schaefer: It is my favorite, I never tire of hearing the Symphony No. 5. And, you know, in contrast to the other works on the program, which as we've mentioned are getting their first hearings at Carnegie Hall, the Sibelius fifth has been played on this stage many times. And, uh, but you know, in the hands of Susanna Mälkki, who has, as you might expect a way with Finnish music. I can't wait to hear how she handles the ending of the symphony, because you'll remember it has these five or six, very oddly spaced chords with big gaps of silence between them.
Jeff Spurgeon: And see how the audience handles it too.
John Schaefer: Yes. It's an invitation for applause at the wrong moment.
Jeff Spurgeon: We'll see if that happens. While we're getting ready for applause at the very right moment, which is the start of this concert, um, we're just about ready. The most of the New York Philharmonic is already on stage. Few of them have been out there uh, warming up for a good half an hour, I would say. And now the houselights are down. And that applause that you hear is for Sheryl Staples, Principal Associate Concert Master of the Philharmonic, who is in charge of the orchestra this particular evening, before conductor Susanna Mälkki arrives. So she'll tune up the New York Philharmonic and then, uh, we'll get started and, and with a great big, exciting piece right out of the gate from Adolphus Hailstork. I think it's really wonderful that these two works, the Hailstork and the Adams, are getting their Carnegie Hall debuts tonight, along with the conductor's debut in Carnegie Hall. And both of those pieces are new works for her. So we are getting lots of fresh, wonderful new energy tonight in this concert.
John Schaefer: And that opening piece again is called " An American Port of Call," Adolphus Hailstork, veteran American composer. As Jeff mentioned earlier, he is here in the house with us tonight. We'll expect him on stage after the performance. Susanna Mälkki out on stage and greeting the audience and the members of the New York Philharmonic. And now turning to face the orchestra to begin this concert from Carnegie Hall Live.
Hailstork: An American Port of Call
Jeff Spurgeon: Music of Adolphus Hailstork. His first Carnegie Hall performance you've just heard by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Mälkki, "An American Port of Call." The New York Philharmonic is on its feet. And now there is a pause and a moment of applause while the composer comes to the stage with Carnegie Hall. Adolphus Hailstork came up from Virginia to enjoy this performance. He's been here for a couple of days. And there he is on stage, shaking hands with Susanna Mälkki.
John Schaefer: Once again, the piece "An American Port of Call" is a portrait, a musical portrait of the city of Norfolk, Virginia, bustling port city for many, many decades. And Adolphus Hailstork turning and, uh, offering his thanks to the orchestra who really did tear through that piece with a certain verve.
Jeff Spurgeon: Just a wonderful, wonderful performance of a bustling port city. But I didn't say at the beginning John, was that, that piece reminds me just a little bit of William Walton's Portsmouth Point Overture, another portrait of a port city, that same kind of energy. Well now here on this Carnegie Hall Live broadcast, John and I are just backstage and the stage hands are out moving a few musicians, instruments, getting ready for the next work on our program, which is the saxophone concerto with John Adams.
John Schaefer: Now, John is not here with us tonight because in addition to being a composer, he is also a conductor. He's in Seattle, conducting the Seattle Symphony Orchestra tonight.
Jeff Spurgeon: If you're in Seattle listening, this broadcast might end in time for you to hustle over to Benaroya Hall and see John Adams conduct the Seattle Symphony. But here we're in New York tonight.
John Schaefer: In New York tonight, we get to hear Branford Marsalis joining the New York Philharmonic and Susanna Mälkki in this performance of John Adams' saxophone concerto. Adams is based in the Bay Area. He's a Pulitzer prize winner. In fact, he won the Pulitzer for his piece called, On the Transmigration of Souls which was written to commemorate those lost in the attacks of 9/11, and was commissioned by and recorded by this orchestra, the New York Phil.
Um, he has never shied away from using unusual instruments and even featuring them. His violin concerto was written for a violinist named Tracy Silverman who plays an electric five-string violin. So a saxophone concerto by comparison is relatively conventional piece for him. Although he has sprinkled saxophones in and among the orchestra in his orchestral pieces, in his operas, there's a sax quartet in Nixon in China. So this is a guy who loves the sound of that instrument, uh, in part, because his father was an alto sax player back in the big band era.
Jeff Spurgeon: In the 1930s. Sure. So the sound of jazz was part of John Adams and our soloist tonight has, uh, feet in both of those worlds, the jazz world and the classical world. Branford Marsalis who's also a band leader and the film and Broadway composer performs regularly with his own quartet. And we talked to them about the difference between leading a jazz ensemble and playing with a symphony orchestra and his answer is surprising.
Branford Marsalis: The fear. Yeah, the fear. It doesn't happen anywhere else. Besides the sheer terror of it when, when you get past it, it's kind of thrilling. I liked that feeling because it's the, it's the feeling of growth and I'm really appreciative for the opportunity to play symphonic music has done for my growth in my maturation as a musician, because, uh, I'm 61 now in, in, in jazz, you get to this place at, well, what are your practicing jazz for? You know how to do it? This is beastly. I mean, it's, it's, it's awesome. It's awesome. Like I don't walk on the stage going. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thank you very much. Yeah. You know, it's going to be fine. I walk in the station. Okay. Here we go. And I liked that. I liked that feeling.
John Schaefer: Well. And here they go.
Jeff Spurgeon: It's a moment of real excitement for Branford Marsalis, as you heard. Conductor Susanna Mälkki has not performed this piece in concert before. And the work is getting it's Carnegie Hall first performance tonight. The saxophone concerto of John Adams. Conductor on the podium, soloist before the audience. And here is the John Adams saxophone concerto from Carnegie Hall Live
John Schaefer: You've just heard John Adams' Saxophone Concerto played live here at Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Mälkki with Branford Marsalis as the saxophone soloist. Rounding out the first half of tonight's concert that features the New York Phil and it's a once and now again, present home here at Carnegie Hall. They're doing several shows here at, uh, at Carnegie this season while their own hall is being renovated. And Branford Marsalis heading back out to center stage to accept the applause from, uh, what looks to be a pretty packed house here at Carnegie tonight. Typically colorful piece from John Adams.
Jeff Spurgeon: Full, full of the atmosphere, the spiky rhythms, the powerful chords, but I love the slow section in this work that just, it felt like, it felt like being in Los Angeles in the evening. It was just easy.
John Schaefer: Beautifully done,
Jeff Spurgeon: Quite, quite a performance and quite a piece. The Carnegie Hall premiere of this work as well tonight. So, uh, that is, well, I guess that, I guess that concludes all the premieres, the conductor making her debut and the two works in the first half of this program, Adolphus Hailstork's An American Port of Call and John Adams' Saxophone Concerto both getting there for all three, uh, making their first appearances at Carnegie Hall.
John Schaefer: I don't think anyone would listen to this saxophone concerto and say, "oh, that sounds like jazz" but you certainly wouldn't have to look too far beneath the surface of it to find the jazzy elements in the piece.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, those are, I think those are some of the challenges, uh, but maybe we can ask one of the players who was involved for instance.
John Schaefer: Gee, which one should we ask?
Jeff Spurgeon: We're so pleased to (laughter), we're so pleased to have Branford Marsalis at the microphone. Congratulations on that performance. What a sweet sound your instrument makes out there.
Branford Marsalis: That piece of sheer terror.
Jeff Spurgeon: You mentioned that in the conversation we had with you the other day, on what makes it so terrifying?
Branford Marsalis: You know, you, you, you, you learn in school about like, you know, sonata song form, sonata form sure. You know, restatement of the melody. And then you have like the, uh, the, the invention part, the experiment and the recapitulation. John is more like, uh, Schumann, Schumann. He's like later for all that. You like this melody? Great. You're not going to hear it again. How about this one? Okay. How about this one? And how about this one? And it's really fast and it's really complex and it's really dense. And, uh, it's just a lot of notes.
John Schaefer: Yeah.
Branford Marsalis: It's a lot of sound. It's a lot of things.
John Schaefer: Let me ask you. Uh, your family's known as a jazz family. Of course, you know, your dad, you, your brothers.
Branford Marsalis: That's what they say.
John Schaefer: But you know, one of the earliest recordings that Winton made was an album of baroque trumpet concertos. So I'm wondering how much classical music there was in this musical family when you were all growing up.
Branford Marsalis: I was more, the, I was more the, I was the uh, R&B/rock and roller of the family. But, uh, Wynton was dutifully practicing from the age of 12. And by the time he was a freshman in high school, he was practicing three hours a day. And two of it was, uh, classical music. Listening to Maurice André and Adolph Herseth who was his man from the Chicago. And I knew all of this because I heard, you know, we, we lived in the same room until we were 19 years old, you know, and we would talk about whatever we would talk about. And I would talk about Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton, and he would talk about Adolph Herseth and it was great. It was great. So yeah, it's been around. So once I started taking a class with saxophone lessons and some people in the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra got wind of it, they said, "hey, how'd you like to play some concerts?" I'm like, "this is a really bad idea. Okay."
Jeff Spurgeon: And when you say, when you say you took classical saxophone lessons, what did that do for your sound to your sound? To your sense of how music works?
Branford Marsalis: It was, it was more philosophical because I mean, non-classical music. Um, and a lot of examples and we have them, if we listen to anything other than classical music. The message outweighs the delivery. I mean, in classical music, you have a message, but you also have a delivery. Uh, Ornette Coleman is not a great saxophone player, but he's a fantastic jazz musician. You know, Bob Dylan is not the best singer, but he's a great songwriter. Nobody's buying that over here. You have to do both. You can't just do one. And I got to that age in my forties where, okay, I'm really good at what I do. And this is when everything is, God's fallen off the cliff because you have to have a reason to practice. And it's like, well, I know how to play a blues songs.
Jeff Spurgeon: You've reached a level of mastery.
Branford Marsalis: No, proficiency. I don't buy the mastery business. And I said, yeah, this is like, I, you know, and there's a lot of musicians who proceeded me and I could hear them. And I love their records when they're in their twenties and thirties. And then they're 70. And it's like, man, what the hell happened? I know what happened. You have to find something else. And those memories of Winton and how the music constantly exposed all of your weaknesses. Because in popular music, you just mask your weaknesses. You just, you make them a strength, right? In jazz you make them a strength. You know, you don't, you don't, if you, if you can't play low D without subtoning, you subtone. But if you can't play low D on a saxophone, in a classical setting, you can't subtone. You just have to squeak and squawk until you learn how to do it. And I'm still dealing with that. Even, you know, 15, 20 years later, I'm still dealing with low notes are always my, an alert goes off in my head when the low notes come in, it's like, oh, crap here, come the low notes, raise the horn hike, push out. You know, make sure the embouchure is firm. I never have to worry about that when I playing anything else.
John Schaefer: Do you have to change? Embouchure? Reeds? Anything? Clarinetists will often change the reed and their approach to the instrument, depending on whether it's playing a jazz gig, a classical concert, a klezmer tune.
Branford Marsalis: Right with a mouthpiece thing is, is, is really simple. The larger the mouthpiece, the more sound you get with the more air you get. Like if I'm playing a jazz gig and I'm playing a size seven mouthpiece, and you listen to some of those old jazz records, you hear at the end of the phrasing, like Ben Webster would finished the phrasing and go (blowing air noises). That's not showing them want to hear that in the middle of his piece, you know, (blows air noises) so you have to use a smaller mouthpiece. And I wanted to find a mouthpiece that's small enough to minimize a lot of that air. Yeah. But still has enough projection. So I know if it's smothered by the orchestra and you just, you figure it out, you stumble into it.
My teacher, Harvey Patel helped me a lot. And, uh, Tim McAllister who commissioned this piece uh, he's been great. All the whole classical saxophone community has been completely awesome to me and they they've, they send me notes and tell me things to work on and, and it's been, it's been fantastic.
John Schaefer: So what are you doing with Orpheus?
Branford Marsalis: Um, we're going to reprise the, uh, the, uh, Ibert concertino, uh.
John Schaefer: Cause you did it with him.
Branford Marsalis: Jacques Ibert, in 2004. I did some in 2002, something like that. I did a little tour with them and we played Ibert and Milhaud, but we're going to play Ibert. Uh, and we're going to play, um, something else that I can't remember and we're going to play, uh, uh, my home girl, uh, names are escaping me right now. Uh, Bryant is her last name. She's a composer and she composed, uh, and actually did an adaptation of Bizet's Carmen. And she's going to kill me cause I mean.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, we'll make it up to her later on the broadcast (laughter).
Branford Marsalis: But yeah, but we're going to, yeah, we're going to be doing that and I think we're going to be doing "Girl from Ipanema" as well. So-
John Schaefer: It's very nice
Branford Marsalis: That wasn't my call, but you know, I do the gig baby.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, you did this gig. I, I think, beautifully tonight. Just beautifully.
Branford Marsalis: I try my best. There was some spots in there, but you know, there's things to work on.
Jeff Spurgeon: You had a good band to play with and you'll get a chance to, uh, do it again. I'm sure if you want the opportunity to play this piece, I'm sure of it.
Branford Marsalis: Yeah, I'm, I'm, I'm a masochist. I would love to bludgeon myself again. I mean, I could just stand in the mirror and punch myself in the mouth several times it would have the same effect. Well, I look forward to doing it again.
Jeff Spurgeon: Good for you for taking a challenge because a musician of your stature also doesn't have to do something like this.
Branford Marsalis: Nah, I had to, I can imagine. No seriously. I can imagine me like 15 years ago, not practicing and only picking up an instrument when I have a gig. Yeah I didn't want to be that guy.
Jeff Spurgeon: Yeah, well, here's to you-
Branford Marsalis: Not that there's anything wrong with that guy I just didn't want it to be me.
Jeff Spurgeon: But here's to you for that, for that art, that pursuit of artistic excellence for what you've shown us tonight. And thank you so much for it. You just given some saxophonists some lessons tonight, both onstage and in this country.
Branford Marsalis: Don't do that.
Jeff Spurgeon: I don't think so. Thank you so much. Branford Marsalis soloist tonight at Carnegie Hall in the saxophone concerto with John Adams. Uh, and this is a broadcast you're hearing from Carnegie Hall Live.
We'll continue in just a moment with the executive, uh, chief executive officer of the New York Philharmonic, uh, which is a band that doesn't usually play at Carnegie Hall, but they're here these days and she'll tell us why and how things are going at the other place they call home. Listener- supported Classical New York is 105.9 FM at HD WQXR Newark and 90.3 FM WQXW Ossining.
Carnegie hall live is supported by PWC. PWC is community of solvers works to bring the best people and tech together to help build trust and deliver sustained outcomes. It all adds up to the new equation, more at thenewequation.com.
I'm Jeff Spurgeon backstage at Carnegie Hall by my side is John Schaefer and facing us both now is Deborah Borda, the chief executive officer of the New York Philharmonic .
John Schaefer: Wow you make it sound like we're facing off. Like this is some, you have like some really antagonistic questions prepared?
Jeff Spurgeon: No, I don't.
Deborah Borda: Let's have fun. Good evening, gentlemen. How are you?
Jeff Spurgeon: Uh, we're very well. And we're so pleased that you're here and, and your orchestra. Now, the New York Philharmonic your orchestra back at its old home here for decades and decades. They first performed at Carnegie Hall in 1892. The second year that the hall was open here until Lincoln Center was created in 1962. And now the orchestra's moving around town a little bit these days. What's happening with the renovation of David Geffen hall? How's it going?
Deborah Borda: How is it going? Everybody asks me that, I'm popular this year. All right. So here's the good news. On time, on budget and we will open in the fall in October of 22. So we're just months away literally. This opening it's right around the corner. As we like to say so close, you can hear it.
John Schaefer: All right. Let me, let me throw out another question that people keep asking you. And I realize it's not a question you're going to be able to answer, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway. Here's Susanna Mälkki, conducting the orchestra. They work so well together. Big article in the (New York Times) Times sort of positing the idea that she might be on your short list of contenders for the soon to be vacant music directorship. Is there anything you can say about that situation?
Deborah Borda: Sure, of course. There's something I can say, which is, I'm not going to talk about it. You know, um, a search for a music director is aside from the building of a new hall as we're doing at David Geffen Hall. And I have to tell you, we're just laser-focused on that right now. It's so important that it be a respectful and confidential process. And so, you know, aside from, is the hall going to be done on time? Everybody asks me who's going to be the next music director, who will she or he be? When the moment comes, I think people will be delighted.
Jeff Spurgeon: How has COVID changed your work on that search? I presume you just don't have as many scouts out to hear as many people or go to as many performances, but maybe that's not how it works.
Deborah Borda: Well, first of all, really, if you look at the roster of the New York Philharmonic this year, last year, and very soon, by the way, we'll be announcing our inaugural season in the hall on February 22nd. So it's just around the corner as well. And I think people will be, um, I hope delighted and surprised by really the, uh, large scale and ranging nature of it.
Uh, the search for a music director is really an organic process. It's not as if somebody drops completely formed, uh, from the. So there will not be a name that everybody doesn't know and could be a less known name or better known name. So it really hasn't interfered. And you know, another interesting thing is we have relationships with so many great conductors. I have so many personal relationships, the orchestra has so many personal relationships. So right now COVID is not interfering with anything except, uh, just keeping the show on this stage.
Jeff Spurgeon: And how is the orchestra doing that? I have to say your protocols are pretty powerful. Um, we've done a few shows at Carnegie and your testing protocols are very particular. Are they working for you? Are you, um, how have you, have you, I presume you've brought in some reserve musicians here or there, if somebody tests positive, but how is it all working?
Deborah Borda: The health and safety of the orchestra and I would say coincidentally of our audiences, who were, we required to be fully vaccinated that has to come number one. So we had to think very closely and a lot about how we could make it safe. We've worked with a wonderful team from Mount Sinai Hospital and yes, we're testing all the time. There are masks worn backstage. You can see everybody on stage except the wind players, because they just can't, are wearing masks. And so we do have a, you know, everybody's fully vaccinated in the orchestra and yes, from time to time, there are those breakthrough, uh, cases, but you know what, it's the next person up. It's always the next person up. And yes, we have a few people that are out tonight, but I think you can hear it's those spectacular band.
Jeff Spurgeon: Oh it sounds great.
John Schaefer: I, I'm really looking forward to the announcement of the new season. I mean, the Philharmonic in recent seasons has done some amazing work and congratulations on the Pulitzer prize this year, awarded to the Cuban American composer, Tania León for Stride a piece that was commissioned for and recorded by, performed by the New York Philharmonic.
Deborah Borda: Yeah, it was part of our, what we call Project 19. To celebrate the passage of the 19th amendment, which of course gave white women, not all women in the United States I might add, the right to finally vote. And we thought let's, let's mark that that's really an important occasion because when you think about an institution as iconic as the New York Philharmonic, we are part of history and history has a very large breadth to it. And there's so much that's referential and so much, we hope we can stimulate our audiences to think and to feel. But right now, really music and the orchestra, it's so important to humanity and to our city. And, and we're just so delighted to be here. Keep on making music. You know, we played through the Spanish epidemic, the Spanish flu pandemic, the Civil War, World War I, World War II. And you know, we're going to hang in there because the show must go on and every single musician out on that stage and all of us backing them up are just completely dedicated to it.
John Schaefer: Well, I know we'll have the opportunity to see the, the ensemble here at Carnegie Hall.
Deborah Borda: And I'm surprised you didn't ask me about the new David Geffen Hall.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well we know the plans are out and, um, uh, I guess the question I want to know is, is, um, what have you, what has, have there been any surprises in the construction of it because you were able to do it so freely? And have there been any changes made? We know that we're going to be able to sit behind the orchestra and that the orchestra is going to be a little further forward, but, but you answer, answer the question we didn't ask.
Deborah Borda: There's tremendous changes. Every seat will be more than 30% closer to the stage. It's what we call "vineyard seating." The audience will literally surround the orchestra. So it's a much more visceral, impactful kind of experience to be at the hall. The hall is entirely clad in wood. Most beautiful birch you can imagine just really, really beautiful. Um, so there'll be the, our lobbies are twice as big. There's a sidewalk studio. So I think what people should get ready for, it's not a renovation. It's not as if, well, we put in some new seats and we painted the walls. This is a transformation when you walk in, it is a completely different place. And were there any surprises? No, we did not find the body of Jimmy Hoffa.
Jeff Spurgeon: Uh, I know that people are going to think we set that up before, but that was well done solely by you. Deborah Borda, president and CEO of the New York Philharmonic. Thank you so much for your time at this concert at Carnegie Hall.
Deborah Borda: Thank you. It's always great to be here and we love coming back to our old home, Carnegie Hall and we really look forward to welcoming everybody to our magnificent new home, David Geffen Hall. Thanks so much, guys.
Jeff Spurgeon: Deborah Borda. It's intermission at this concert at Carnegie Hall. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. John Schaefer's here. We're getting ready to hear the New York Philharmonic play Sibelius in just a couple of minutes. Our conductor tonight, Susanna Mälkki, of course, a native of Finland. We asked her what Sibelius means to this Nordic nation.
Susanna Mälkki: I think Jean Sibelius for us in Finland is more than a composer. I mean, he is definitely the greatest composer, but it goes beyond the musical field. You know, Sibelius's a comfort that everybody knows. The whole Finnish nation knows about Sibelius and they know about Finlandia and this music is very much, uh, linked to our identity and the history of the country and you know, the struggle for independence and the cultural identity, you know, the two languages in the country. And, and then also, maybe there is a very important part of great pride of having such an important international composer from our little country.
John Schaefer: That is Susanna Mälkki, the, uh, Finnish-born conductor who is leading the New York Philharmonic in this concert at Carnegie Hall. When she mentions Finland's two languages, those are Finnish and Swedish. Uh, Sibelius hugely important figure in Finland. He was on the currency on postage stamps, uh, Fins celebrate their flag flying day on Sibelius's birthday, December 8th and of the seven symphonies that Sibelius wrote, the Fifth is arguably his most played. It's certainly been played here on the stage of Carnegie Hall often enough over the years. And it's, it's a wonderful, but also an enigmatic piece at times.
Jeff Spurgeon: I love the pictures that Sibelius paints in his music, even though I may not be able to tell you what those pictures are, what, and I think that's what you mean by that enigmatic sound, but it's rich and expressive. And we're going to hear it tonight from a Finnish conductor with this great orchestra. I think that we're in for a real treat.
John Schaefer: Susanna Mälkki bowing to the audience, turning to face the New York Philharmonic. Here's their performance of the Sibelius Symphony No. 5 from Carnegie Hall Live.
Jeff Spurgeon: The Symphony No. 5 of Jean Sibelius, you've just heard it from Carnegie Hall Live and the performance by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Mälkki, guest conductor of the Philharmonic in the first of four programs, the orchestra is bringing to Carnegie Hall in these early months of 2022 as the orchestra's own home David Geffen Hall is under renovation.
Those cheers you heard were for Ms. Mälkki. The entire orchestra is on its feet. Of course, and much of the audience at Carnegie Hall is too in great appreciation for that Sibelius performance. Backstage, I'm Jeff Spurgeon, along with John Schaefer.
John Schaefer: And, uh, this is, as we mentioned, this is Susanna Mälkki's Carnegie Hall debut, and, uh, turned out to be a very auspicious occasion.
Jeff Spurgeon: Indeed. Uh, her debut and, uh, the first performance of the two earlier works on the program, the saxophone concerto of John Adams and "An American Port of Call" a work by American composer, Adolphus Hailstork.
John Schaefer: And, uh, Susanna Mälkki back out at center stage here at Carnegie Hall. The audience on their feet still applauding and cheering as you can probably hear.
Jeff Spurgeon: I'd say a lot of this audience came for that Sibelius too. Now there was applause after the first movement, which is a wonderful thing, just observing concert tradition. But those six chords at the end, nobody put their hands together in the audience for that. They waited for the full impact of all of that wonderful Sibelius ending of that fifth symphony before the applause broke out very quickly.
John Schaefer: Well, and I did mention before the performance that it's a somewhat enigmatic piece of times and never more so than at the end with those oddly spaced chords. And it seems like every conductor performs them differently. You know, the final two chords you'll often see a conductor align them together. Whereas Susanna Mälkki took it as two separate-
Jeff Spurgeon: Yep.
John Schaefer: -Musical moments.
Jeff Spurgeon: And very much, uh, associated with the score, but she found the emphasis in those final cords as well. Now you are hearing applause for various soloists. Susanna Mälkki is calling for various members of the New York Philharmonic to, uh, take a special bow. We have, we have some fans just backstage next to us too. So you're hearing that applause as well. It is an exciting night for the Philharmonic. First time they'd been in the Carnegie Hall since 2015, having performed here, uh, in more than, uh, six years. And there'll be doing three more programs, uh, in these early months of 2022 before David Geffen Hall is reopened in its refurbished brand new look.
John Schaefer: And as the CEO of the New York Phil, Deborah Borda told us at intermission, they fully expect to be back in David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center in October of this year.
Jeff Spurgeon: A couple earlier, a couple of years earlier than they were expected to be. Um, that is because of COVID. So the old phrase, an ill wind, it's an ill wind, indeed. That doesn't blow somebody some good at blue, a little good to the renovation of David Geffen Hall, for sure.
But tonight the New York Philharmonic is in Carnegie Hall and this Carnegie Hall Live broadcast 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: You know, it's interesting. I've been thinking Jeff is, as we were listening to the Sibelius piece, core repertoire, to more recent American pieces in the first half Adolphus Hailstork, John Adams, and you think, what did they have in common? All of them had these moments of mystery in the middle of the pieces, uh, which, which was really quite striking. And joining us now with the microphone is Carter Brey, the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic since 1996. It's great to see you.
Carter Brey: Gentlemen, how are you?
Jeff Spurgeon: Very well, congratulations on a wonderful concert. What was it like to be back in Carnegie Hall with your New York Philharmonic colleagues?
Carter Brey: Carnegie Hall is nonpareil, there's nothing like it. Uh, maybe maybe the, the, the hall in Vienna, but it's just, it stands by itself.
John Schaefer: Well. you must be looking forward, nonetheless, not only to the three additional concerts that are going to be here, but to returning to, uh, the new David Geffen hall in the Fall.
Carter Brey: Looking forward to that very much.
John Schaefer: So in the interim, what can you tell us about the, the other three programs that you and the Philharmonic will be doing here?
Carter Brey: Well, let's say, um, it's a variety of repertoire. Um, I think what stands out for me is that until now we've been playing in smaller holes that are designed either for jazz as the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center or Alice Tully Hall, of course, which is superb chamber music hall, but always in danger of being overwhelmed by the mighty mighty New York Philharmonic. So we've been playing mostly chamber orchestra repertoire at the spaces, or severely paired down forces. And Carnegie allows us to unleash a little bit without fear of overstepping the boundaries across the glade.
Jeff Spurgeon: You finally get to step out a little bit. Well, what has, what has, uh, COVID in the way that you've had to change, um, brought to you as a player and how did you keep going through the early months of the pandemic? And because I've, you know, I've, it would just be understandable that, well, we can't play. So the cello goes back in the box for a little while. You go out for an extra run or two cause that's the safest place to be. So what has this done for you as a musician and maybe for your colleagues in the orchestra?
Carter Brey: Well, I'm guilty of having gone out for the extra run or the extra sale or whatever. Um, but there was always the implicit understanding that we would be back at some point. So keep your chops up. Um, I like many, many other musicians, not just in the Philharmonic, but worldwide, um, sat down and made amateurish videos to post on our YouTube channels just for no other reason, to keep ourselves honest and in shape and playing scales and arpeggios everyday.
John Schaefer: But also to continue communicating, which after all is-
Carter Brey: To continue to communicate. The Philharmonic, as many of your listeners are probably aware, uh, made several videos that were sort of patched together, uh, electronically to make it seem as if we were playing together. Most memorably, perhaps the Adagietto from the Mahler Fifth Symphony. Just to keep ourselves reminded that we're a unit we'll, we'll be back one fine day. In fact, here we are.
Jeff Spurgeon: Well, it was a wonderful evening in Carnegie Hall and we're so happy that Carnegie, that the Philharmonic is back in Carnegie for a little while. And we're looking forward to the new David Geffen Hall and Carter Brey, thank you so much for talking with us today.
Carter Brey: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
Jeff Spurgeon: Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic and, uh, with that and the sound of the background of the risers being folded up on the stage of Carnegie Hall that tells you that we are about to end this broadcast with thanks to Clive Gillinson and the staff of Carnegie Hall WQXR.
His team includes engineers, Edward Haber, Irene Trudel, Bill Siegmund and Wayne Schulmeister
John Schaefer: Our production team includes Matt Abramovitz, Christine Herskovits, Eileen Delahanty, and Lauren Purcell-Joiner. Carnegie Hall Live is a co-production of WQXR and Carnegie Hall.
I'm John Schaefer.
Jeff Spurgeon: And I'm Jeff Spurgeon. This is listener-supported Classical New York 105.9 FM at HD WQXR Newark and 90.3 FM WQXW Ossining. Terrance McKnight will be joining you very shortly. And of course, the music continues on WQXR.